Introduction

Edward Lear’s nonsense poetry “The Owl and the Pussy-cat” was first published in 1871 as part of his book Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets. It narrates the tale of two lovers, an owl and a cat who sail in a boat and get married in a land where “where the Bong-tree grows”.

About the Poet

Edward Lear (1812 – 1888) is an English artist, illustrator, author and poet. He is known mostly for his limericks, a form he popularised. (Limericks are short humorous poems, with rhymes.)

Theme

The main themes are love and marriage. True love always finds a way despite the many differences and difficulties.

Stanza I

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 Kitty, O Kitty, my love,
What a beautiful Kitty you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Kitty you are!”

The owl and pussy cat are two lovers who set out in a boat and sail in the sea. They packed with them some honey and money for their journey. The scene is set on a starry night making it lovely. The owl sweetly sings to his lover, the pussy cat a song admiring her.

Stanza II

The Kitty said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing!
Oh! 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.

The kitty replies to him just as sweetly with a song of her own and suggests they get married. Their marriage is prolonged due to the lack of a wedding ring, so they sail for a year and a day until they reach a land where the bong tree grows. There they come across a pig with a ring on its nose.

Stanza III

“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.

They kindly ask the pig if he is willing to sell his ring for a shilling. The pig agrees and so the couple finally marries. They feast on the food they like with a runcible spoon. The term ‘runcible spoon’ was coined by Edward Lear and it is a three-pronged fork curved like a spoon and having a cutting edge. They were happily married and danced under the moonlight.