‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ is probably Edward Lear’s (1812-1888) most famous poem loved by kids as well as adults: in 2014 it was voted the nation’s favourite childhood poem.
Edward Lear wrote it in 1868 for Janet Symonds, 3-year-old daughter of the poet and literary critic John Addington Symonds.
The word ‘runcible’ that has eventually made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary as a nonsense word was coined by the author. Its meaning remains a mystery. It doesn’t help that Edward Lear himself used it to describe such different things as his hat, a wall and even his cat
Lear didn’t help matters: as well as applying the word to a spoon, he went on to use ‘runcible’ to describe his hat, a wall, and even his cat Foss.
The meaning of the entire poem is debatable too. Is it a commentary on Victorian society, as some people think, or just a delightful example of nonsense poetry? Maybe it doesn’t really matter because, regardless of what it’s supposed to mean, you can simply enjoy its fantasy world described in a beautiful language.
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
The Owl and the Pussy-cat 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,
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,
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,
They danced by the light of the moon.
Poem © Out of copyright