A Short Analysis of Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’

Dr Oliver Tearle’s reading of one of nonsense literature’s best-loved poems

‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ is probably Edward Lear’s most famous poem, and a fine example of Victorian nonsense verse. But can one really analyse nonsense literature, or subject it to critical scrutiny? After all, the very name implies that it’s not supposed to make ‘sense’. Yet whenever a poem attains iconic status, it’s worth discussing how it has earned that status.

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The Children of the Owl and the Pussy-Cat

Edward Lear’s sequel to his classic nonsense love poem

Did you know that Edward Lear wrote a sequel to ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’? ‘The Children of the Owl and the Pussy-Cat’ first appeared in Angus Davidson’s Edward Lear: Landscape Painter and Nonsense Poet in 1938. It makes it clear that the cat was indeed the female in this unlikely marriage, and the owl male. It also takes a rather tragic turn, as the Owl and Pussy-Cat’s offspring tell us of the death of their feline mother some five years earlier, and the resulting single-parent upbringing they had. The poem was never finished, and Lear never published it, but it helps to underscore the sense of melancholy and sadness that pervades Lear’s best-loved nonsense verse – as well as Lear’s own life.

‘The Children of the Owl and the Pussy-Cat’ is reproduced below, complete with the gaps in the original manuscript – just as Lear, sadly, left it.

Our mother was the Pussy-cat, our father was the Owl,
And so we’re partly little beasts and partly little fowl,
The brothers of our family have feathers and they hoot,
While all the sisters dress in fur and have long tails to boot.

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