They Went to Sea in a Sieve

Edward Lear was born on this day in 1812.  In case you didn’t know, he’s the writer of what has been called “the nation’s favourite poem”, The Owl and the Pussycat. (I presume in this case “the nation” in question is England, rather than the UK, as I can’t imagine that the Scots would choose Lear over Burns, or the Welsh rate him ahead of Dylan Thomas, but that’s another matter).

I’ve never really rated The Owl and the Pussycat though. It’s featured in so many anthologies now that there’s just something a bit ubiquitous about runcible spoons and piggy-wigs with nose rings. It’s the poem he’s most remembered for, regardless of whether or not it’s his best – a bit like Byron and ‘She Walks in Beauty’ or Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’; actually there’s much better stuff if you just look past the greatest hits.  If you want a really fantastic Edward Lear poem, you can’t do much better than The Jumblies which was one of my favourite poems when my parents read it to me as a child. It’s a bit long to reproduce in full (but you can read it here) so here’s a fantastic animation of it which I found on YouTube.


(copyright Robert Duncan,

If you’re looking for a truly nonsensical poem, I’d say The Jumblies leaves The Owl & the Pussycat trailing along in its wake. Setting off to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat just reeks of a staid middle-class day trip, in comparison to the sheer preposterousness of traveling by a sieve.  And there’s nothing especially nonsensical about the Owl and the Pussycat’s sensible precautions about making sure they’ve got enough cash, not to mention their conventional ideas about marriage.  What do the Jumblies take with them? Pinky paper and a crockery jar. And they pick up holiday souvenirs like a lovely monkey with lollipop paws and 40 bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree (no idea what that is, but I’m guessing it’s a Victorian version of something sugar-fuelled like Capri Sun)  That’s the kind of random packing and reckless disregard for tooth decay that my children would approve of.

Edward Lear is also known for having popularised limerick poetry. Of course, limericks are traditionally a bit vulgar, which Lear’s aren’t, which might explain why his were so popular with his Victorian readers. But if it wasn’t for Lear, the weekly Limerick Poetry Challenge which I and many blogging friends took part in over the last couple of years might never have happened, so we owe him for that!  So in honour of his birthday, here’s a limerick in praise of Edward Lear:

Edward Lear’s nonsense rhymes taught a few

Kids like me to love poetry, it’s true.

As a mum, I knew I ought’a

Share his rhymes with my daughter

And now she loves the Jumblies too.!


Happy 205th birthday Edward Lear!


6 thoughts on “They Went to Sea in a Sieve

  1. It’s his limericks that inspire me: all those eccentric old persons astonishing the locals with their behaviour…the humour is so strange and gentle.

    Liked by 1 person

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