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poetry

  • Edward Lear

    EDWARD LEAR

    Biography

    Edward Lear was a British poet, painter and illustrator, known for his absurd wit. He was born on the 12th of May, 1812, in the London suburb of Holloway, the twentieth of twenty one children, born to Anne Skerrett Lear and Jeremiah Lear, a stockbroker. Many of his siblings did not survive past childhood. Lear was the youngest to survive. His health was always delicate, even though he managed to live to the age of seventy five, and he suffered from chronic respiratory problems and had poor eyesight. When he was five he had his first epileptic seizure. Lear saw this “demon”, as he referred to his affliction, as a mark of shame. His wish to hide his condition form the people whom he loved, resulted in his self imposed isolation from them.

    In the previous years to the onset of his epilepsy, another trauma occurred when Jeremiah Lear suffered heavy financial losses. Later Lear would tell his friends that his father had gone to debtor’s prison, although there is no evidence to back this claim. The Lears were forced to rent out their home, ‘Bowman’s Lodge’. Edward’s oldest sister, Ann, was charged with his care by their mother. When the family resumed their financial stability, she never acted as his mother again. Ann became a devoted surrogate mother to Edward for the rest of her life, but he never got over the hurt of being rejected by his real mother, often seen in his equivocation of mother figures in many of his poems.

    His sister tutored Edward at home and encouraged the obvious talent for drawing and painting he had showed from an early age. Lear had little or no formal education. In 1828, his father, Jeremiah, retired and moved South of London. Edward and Ann remained in the city, in lodgings off the Gray’s Inn Road. Sixteen year old Edward sold sketches to support them. He produced anatomical drawings and later to illustrate natural history books. In 1832, he had a volume of twelve folio lithographic prints of parrots published by the London Zoological Society, ‘Illustrations of the Family Psittacosis’. The book was noticed by the 13th Earl of Derby, who was looking for an artist to draw the animals in his menagerie at Knowsley, his Derby estate in Lancashire. The Earl invited Lear to stay at the estate, which he did until 1937.

     

     

     

    The Beginning of Lear's Travels

    The English winters and Lear’s failing eyesight and lungs, meant that Lear had to give up his detailed natural history work, and in 1837, the Earl enabled Edward to become a painter of topographical landscape in Rome, by providing him with both funds and introductions. He travelled extensively throughout Europe and Asia between 1837 and 1847, where he also first established himself as a nonsense poet, and where some of the deepest of his many close friendships began.

     

    The Illustrated Travels of a Landscape Painter

    In 1842, Lear commenced his travels in Italy, travelling through Rome, Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise, Apulia, Calabria and Sicily. He recorded the Italian way of life in notes and drawings, of folk traditions and the beauty of the ancient monuments, buildings and landscape. One of his favourite places was Abruzzo, which he visited in 1843, through the Marsica and the plateau of Cinque Miglia by an old sheep track of the shepherds. After returning to England, Lear’s travel journals were published in several volumes as ‘The Illustrated Travels of a Landscape Painter’. They were extremely popular and well respected at the time, but were largely forgotten in the 20th century.

     

    Introductions

    His days at Knowsley had a profound influence on Lear’s career. Under the patronage of the Earl of Derby, Lear met and charmed many aristocrats, who went on to buy his paintings and was offered an opening into a world that his middle class upbringing would have otherwise denied him. Whilst there, Lear produced drawings, poems, menus and alphabets to entertain the children of Knowsley. These ‘nonsenses’ and Lear’s charming conversations and piano recitals, made him highly popular with both the children and the adults.

     

    A Book of Nonsense

    In 1846, he published his first book of poems, ‘A Book of Nonsense’, for the grandchildren of the Derby household, under the pseudonym, Derry Down Derry.

     

    The Modern Limerick

    Lear is recognised as the creator of the form and meter of the modern limerick. The Learian limerick is focused on a single individual – an old or young ‘person, ‘man’, ‘woman’, distinguished by unusual appearance, dress, behaviour, diet or talents. Most typically it will concentrate on their eccentricities, their dwelling place and their distinctive features. It then goes on to explain the consequence of their peculiarities and ends with an apostrophe.

     

    There was a young lady of Norway,

    Who casually sat in a doorway,

    When the door squeezed her flat,

    She exclaimed “what of that”?

    This courageous young lady of Norway.

     

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    The modern limerick has an unexpected punch line at the end, Lear’s limerick repeats the final word at the end of the first line at the end of the last.

     

    A theme of Lear’s limericks is anyone with a feature slightly different from the masses, such as the oversized nose and spindly legs he gave himself in self deprecating caricatures and his affinity with all animals other than dogs, seeing them as a sharer of his misfit status. He also shows Victorian children examples of bizarre, misbehaving adults, their morality often depicted in terms of eating habits. Food is often used symbolically in Lear’s poetry – sharing food indicating selflessness and affection, gluttony on the other hand showing lack of thought for others and egotism. Gluttony receives harsh punishment.

     

    There was an old man of the South,

    Who had an immoderate mouth,

    But in swallowing a dish,

    That was quite full of fish,

    He was choked, that old man of the South.

     

    Book of Nonsense

    In 1845, the year before publishing the ‘Book of Nonsense’, Lear became friends with Chichester Fortesque, who later became Lord Carlingford. Their charming and delightful letters were compiled in two volumes and are the largest collection of letters published by Lear. In 1849, he met Alfred and Emily Tennyson. Lear greatly admired Tennyson’s poetry, setting several pieces to music and leaving an unfinished volume of illustrations of the poets’ work at his death.

    Unrequited Love

    Lear’s most painful relationship was with Franklin Rushington, a young barrister, whom he met in Malta in 1849 and who he toured Southern Greece with. Lear was passionately in love with him, but his feelings were not reciprocated. Even though they remained close friends, the unrequited love tormented Lear until his death.

    10 Year Painting Course

    In 1850, Lear started a ten year painting course at the Royal Academy Schools, to improve his figure drawing skills and his untrained oil painting technique.

    Accomplished Musician

    He was an accomplished musician, playing the guitar, flute and accordion, but mainly the piano. He composed music to accompany Victorian poems, but was mainly known for his numerous musical settings of Tennyson’s poetry – the only musical settings that Tennyson approved of. He also composed music to accompany many of his nonsense songs, including ‘The Owl and The Pussycat’. Only two scores have survived, the music for ‘The Courtship of The Yongy Bongy-Bo’ and ‘The Pelican Chorus’. He never played professionally, but would perform his own nonsense songs and his settings of other peoples’ poetry at social gatherings, often replacing serious lyrics with nursery rhymes.

     

    The Owl and The Pussycat

    Despite producing beautiful watercolours in both his illustrated travel journals and his work for the London Zoological Society, Lear is best remembered for his numerous poems, notably ‘The Owl and The Pussycat’ and as the creator of the modern limerick. Although his poems vary greatly, both in form and subject, they can be characterised by his irreverent view of the world. Lear poked fun at everything, including himself. Many critics view Lear’s loyalty to the ridiculous as a way of coping with and undermining the rigidity of Victorian society. The humour of Lear’s poems has proved to be timeless. His work along with other Victorian nonsense writer, such as Lewis Carroll and Thomas Hood, helped the twentieth century aesthetic movements such as surrealism and the theatre of the absurd. It was an expression of the longings, frustrations and dreams of a lovable, intensely loving man, who although being loved by relatives, friends and readers – both adults and children alike – never found the constant, intimate love he so desperately desired.

     

    Last Words

    Lear was never free from physical and emotional pain. His health grew steadily worse and he died of heart disease, alone except for a servant, on the 29th of January, 1888, in his villa in San Remo. His last words expressed his gratitude for the kindness of his absent friends. He is buried in the cemetery Foca in San Remo. His headstone is inscribed with the words from Tennyson’s poem, To EL (Edward Lear), On His Travels In Greece.

     

    All things fair,

    With such a pencil, such a pen,

    You shadow forth to distant men,

    I read and felt that I was there.

     

     

    Article written by Mary Aitken

     

     

     

  • Colourful Art

    Colleen Ranney

    colleen ranney 1

    Artist, Author and Poet Colleen Ranney creates the most stunning and colourful, textiley paintings and writes poetry and many books too. Colleen was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 4 and has gone from strength to strength through her life. To read more about the talented lady read her biography.  Colleens purpose is exposing hidden truths through the expression  of poetic art which she produces in this beautiful textiley form.

    Lovely Colours

    The colourful artworks are intense and inviting and, grasp your attention quickly. Below are just some of her amazing and beautiful paintings. I for one know that I would love to walk around in her beautifully painted scenes. They are far too inviting and just looking at them I feel i am part of the painting myself.

    meadow-trail-by-colleen-ranney-colleen-ranney 3

                                        meadow-sky-by-colleen-ranney-colleen-ranney 2

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