Sunday, 28 August 2011

Spike Milligan and Edward Lear

On the Ning Nang Nong  

On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
and the monkeys all say BOO!
There's a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang
And you just can't catch 'em when they do!
So its Ning Nang Nong
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning
Trees go ping
Nong Ning Nang
The mice go Clang
What a noisy place to belong
is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!

-Spike Milligan

Because poetry just doesn't have to make sense to be great!

Spike Milligan eventually, after being in the army and appearing on TV shows, made a living writing nonsense poetry for children. He wrote over many different genres, family and animals being two of the main ones, but all of them were nonsense.

However, Spike Milligan was not the first nonsense poet. From my resources (Google) I've managed to trace the line of nonsense poets back to Edward Lear. 

Edward Lear was born on 12th May 1812 and was the 21st child of a middle class family. From a very early age Lear suffered from medical problems such as epileptic seizures, bronchitis, asthma, depression and even partial blindness later in his life. Lear felt guilty and lonely because of his conditions, mostly because in his time epilepsy was thought to be a sign of demonic possession and he was forced to remove himself from society when his condition got worse.

Lear travelled when his health permitted him, he never married although he was offered two proposals by women 46 years younger than him and after 18 years of heart disease Lear died in 1888.

Yet, throughout his long life full of sickness Lear managed to do the following things -

  • became a serious ornithological draughtsman (by the age of 16)
  • was employed by the Zoological Society
  • worked with the private menagerie of the Earl of Derby
  • published his first book the Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots (Aged 19)
  • gave drawing lessons to Queen Victoria
  • and went on to publish many volumes of nonsense poetry
 The most famous poem from Edward Lear was one that you may know quite well -

The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are."
Pussy said to the Owl "You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing.
O let us be married, too long we have tarried;
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows,
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose, his nose, his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?"
 Said the Piggy, "I will"
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand.
They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon. 

Sometimes I wonder how the public reacted when Lear first published his book of nonsense poetry. Did they treat it with scorn and dislike because it didn't measure up to the verses of Tennyson or Shakespeare? Or did they embrace the new genre that he had created and enjoy it for the work of fiction that it was?

But I guess I'll never know :)