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Edward Lear's Nonsense Songs

Updated Monday, 7th September 2015

Make your own nonsense and learn about Edward Lear’s innovative production techniques.

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Explore Edward Lear's nonsense verse with exclusive videos and activities.

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Edward Lear's published his first collection of nonsense verse, The Book of Nonsense, in 1846 – but it was certainly not his last. Published in 1871, Lear’s Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets contains the much loved poem, 'The Owl and Pussycat'. Whilst researching her own sequel, children’s author Julia Donaldson discovered that Lear wrote – but never completed – his own follow-up. In this fragment the cat falls out of a tree and the “elegant fowl” goes demented with grief – treading the characteristically fine line between joy and melancholy in Lear’s writing.

Edward Lear – the 20th child of a bankrupt and widowed businessman - was brought up by his elder sister. The young Lear had epilepsy – a condition stigmatised at the time, but he also had precocious artistic gifts. As a young man he was summoned to Knowsley Hall in Merseyside to paint the Earl of Derby’s menagerie. The aboriginal names of some of the exotic Australian creatures at Knowsley may have found their way into the nonsense verse that he began to write for the Earl’s children.

Lear’s verse coincided with an explosion in English nonsense literature – including Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. But Lear also introduced a unique visual style to his books, pioneering a new kind of poetry that married brilliant wordplay with astonishing artwork. Lear’s poems represent a wonderfully childish, creative antidote to the relentless, and dehumanising, march of Victorian “progress” - which may be why his impish voice continues to speak to us today.


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