Friday, October 10, 2008
The Life of Objects #2
Edward Lear’s poem “The Owl & The Pussycat” is without doubt one of the most elegant & charming pieces of doggerel ever composed in our English language. Clever & witty & “rich & strange,” it’s a delight to anyone who reads it—or it should be.
It could well be the first poem I remember hearing—certainly about the first other than the Mother Goose rhymes at very least. Now, of course there’s just something irresistable about wittily anthropomorphized animals (as Looney Tunes prove), but there are so many odd little details from the poem: the “pea-green” boat, the “small” guitar, the “mince” & “quince” & of course, the “runcible” spoon. There is some debate about what Lear meant by a "runcible spoon"—the common explanation is he meant something like a spork or a grapefruit spoon. Others have pointed out that neither of these objects look like the runcible spoon Lear drew in his dolomphious duck illustration; you can read more about this here.
At any rate, “The Owl & The Pussycat” occupies a privileged place in my imagination—it’s right in there with French surrealist poetry & the old Perry Mason TV series, or between Hank Williams & Jorge Luis Borges. So when Eberle & I happened on the grandaddy of all Council, ID yard sales several years back & I saw the little carved Owl & Pussycat you see in the pic above, I knew I was going to splurge $1.50 & buy it.
Though you may still ask, “Why,” really, because the little statue doesn’t have much to do with the way I see the poem. It’s kind of crude, & very brightly colored, & the crescent moon on its wire is odd (compelling, in a way, but odd). It really emphasizes the “children’s poetry” aspect of “The Owl & The Pussycat,” & is hardly at all about the verbal play. So is it enough that it reminds me of the poem, even though its maker’s interpretation seems to have departed from mine?
But of course, the point is, too, that “The Owl & The Pussycat” is a children’s poem—that’s a big part of its appeal; for all its wit, it reminds us of a time when imagination was everything, & there’s a way in which this carving seems completely the loving product of someone’s imagination. Then, too, “The Owl & The Pussycat” has very dear associations for me, because Eberle wrote a musical setting for it, & we worked on the uke parts hanging out in bed—the uke is the instrument par excellence for playing in bed, by the way, & if you’re halfway good at it, you can even play it laying down (on your back, needless to say).
We ended up performing the song with The Alice in Wonder Band—the pic below shows (l-r) yours truly on baritone uke, Kati Sheldon, our singer (with a really incredible range, which Eberle tried to showcase in this song), Eberle on concert uke, & Barb Dixon on conga. Lois Fry also plays violin on this (you can kinda see her off to the left), & Art Troutner plays oboe. You can hear a live take of Eberle’s “The Owl & The Pussycat” here.
The crescent moon—a “small guitar”—a little boat… who says life can’t ever be happily naïve?