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Nonsense Songs
and Stories

The Songs

Alphabetical list of the songs

Lear published two collections of songs and stories, quite different in style from the limericks books:

  1. Nonsense Songs, Stories Botany and Alphabets, 1871
  2. Laughable Lyrics. A Fourth Book of Nonsense Poems, Songs, Botany Music, &c, 1877

More songs were published posthumously in the 1912 collection of his Nonsense edited by Lady Strachey, and a few more by Davidson in his 1938 biography and in Teapots and Quails (1952).

Many of these songs are not as nonsensical as the limericks, and have often been interpreted as a reductio ad absurdum of Romantic poetry. By Bowra (The Romantic Imagination, 1950, p. 279), for example:

He differs from his models not in his means but in his end. He wished to write nonsense, and with the insight of genius saw that the romantic technique was perfectly suited to it. With him the romantic indefinitness passes beautifully into absurdity, and his own inchoate sorrows vanish in the divine light of nonsense.

Hugh Kenner (A Homemade World, 1975, p. 70) emphasizes the escapism implicit in such a practice:

Tennyson's friend Edward Lear at length perceived that the safest course for poetry, since its ligatures with phenomena were causing it so much trouble, was to shut itself up completely in its own cocoon of suggestion.

This is especially evident in poems such as The Yonghy-Bonghy-B, which tells the story of an unrequited love, and The Dong with a Luminous Nose, clearly about feelings of solitude; these are usually considered reflections of Lear's personal condition.

The Stories

Lear only wrote two short stories in the traditional illustrated form:

both published in his 1871 Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets. These are much more strictly nonsensical than the songs.

He seems to have preferred a fully illustrated type of short story with pictures and short descriptive captions, similar to his contemporary Rodolphe Tpffer's "histoires en estampes", which he used to draw for his friends and never published in his lifetime. Here is an example, from Teapots and Quails (1952):

He also used this form to illustrate adventures from his travels, e.g. his Sicilian trip of 1847 with John Proby:


Alphabetical List of the Songs


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