Edward Lear and the Dolnik

From: Derek Attridge. “Rhythm: Children’s Poetry and the Dolnik“. In The Aesthetics of Children’s Poetry. Ed. Katherine Wakely-Mulroney and Louise Joy. Routledge, 2017.

In what follows, I hope to show by means of a few examples both the ubiquity and the effectiveness of the dolnik, as the most immediately recognised and most memorable metrical form in English, acrosstwo hundred year of children’s poetry.

Dolnik verse, unlike its stricter cousins, thinks nothing of overriding natural speech patterns in favour of a strong, regular rhythm; skilful users of it ensure that the syntectic and lexical properties of the words in question are such that the suppression can happen without a sense of disruption or tension (except where this contributes to the effectiveness of the verse).

The suitability of _dolnik_ for longer narrative verse s demonstrated in two famous poems, Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” and Robert Browning’s “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” (The latter is a little freer in its versification but returns repeatedly to the regular form.) Both use rhyme extensively, though without falling into a regular scheme, and the metre helps to move the poems along at a rollicking pace. These two poems aim at dramatic intensity, but another kid of narrative aims at comedy, a genre for which dolnik verse, with its capacity for bouncy thythms and prominent rhymes, is eminently suited. One master of the comic dolnik was Edward Lear. Let us take part of the first stanza of “The Jumblies”:

On the page its metre looks fearsomely complicated, and an attempt to explain it in terms of classical feet comes up with a seemingly random mixture of iambs and anapaests. But to the native speaker of English, at any rate, the lines need non conscious metrical analysis in order to flow with a joyous, infectious, and entirely appropriate rhythm. Lear bases his long stanza on the traditional form to provide an immediatelyt familiar framework, but gives it a delicious extension by adding a second full four-beat line before the final shorter line, thus creating a rhyming couplet where we might have expected a rhyme with the opening line. The lines I have omitted constitute another variation on th etraditional form: the realised beats occur in the long measure sequence, as the Jumblies shout difiance to the alarmed crowd, followed by a line with three full beats echoing the earlier three-beat lines: “In a Sieve we’ll go to sea!” The stanza then ends with a more conventional, abab stanza, beginning with a line that reduces the four-beat group to its minimal verbal proportions — “Far and few, far and few” — and ending with one that echoes, but inverts, the earlier refrain, “And they went to sea ina Sieve.”
The five following stanzas repeat this pattern of beats exactly, but the disposition of single and double offbeats changes (except for the final quatrain, which is repeated from stanza to stanza). The irrepressible jollity of the Jumblies, notwithstanding the shortcomings of the sieve as a sea-going vessel, comes over as much in the effervescent rhythm as in the tale of their adventures. It may be an example of critical over-inventiveness to suggest a connection between the choice of single or double offbeats and the content of the lines, but it si perhaps significant that both the friends’ warning and the repeated “Far and few” are slightly more sober lines, with no double offbeats.

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An Unpublished Poem by Edward Lear

Edward Lear, Mt. Generoso, July 1882.

Amy Wilcockson and Edmund Downey have found a previously unknown poem by Edward Lear, dated 22 September 1882 and enclosed in a lettter to Mary Theresa Mundella (1847–1922), daughter of Liberal politician and friend to Lear, Anthony John Mundella (1825–1897). The poem is a lamentation about the number of tourists on Mount Generoso; the title is “Lays of the Octopods (The Last of the Octopods)” and this is the first of seven stanzas:

From Monte Generoso
When the leaves were turning brown
Five hundred thousand Octopods
All painfully came down
And on the back of every one
A Pofflikopp held fast,
And all their faces dark or fair
With sorrow were o’ercast.

You can read the rest on the Notes & Queries website.

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Edward Lear and Kleptomania

Edward Lear
Was haunted by a fear
While travelling in Albania
Of contracting kleptomania.

W.H. Auden, Academic Graffiti (1971). More here.
I just learned about this clerihew from the latest issue of the TLS.

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A New Edward Lear Cartoon

Edward Lear (attrib.), drawing, ex. Ford Found., Attributed to Edward Lear (British, 1812-1888), “Please my Lord I want to be made a Bishop”, pen and brown ink caricature drawing on paper, no visible signature, inscribed in pencil verso “Edward Lear”, 4.25″h x 6.75″w (sight), 8.75″h x 11.25″w (frame).

Good/Fair, minor creases, some areas of light foxing

The Ford Foundation Collection

The Saleroom.

A new cartoon, that looks quite Learian to me with its mixture of realism and caricature. It is not mentioned in the Appendix to my article on “Edward Lear: A Life in Pictures.” Unfortunately it cannot be dated, but it must have been made for some special occasion. Lear liked jokes on titles (bishops and kings his favourites) and their pursuit.

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Edward Lear, Parga, Greece & Monastir, Albania

Edward Lear, Parga, Greece; and Monastir, Albania.
The first, signed with monogram and dated ‘1864’ (lower right); the second, signed with monogram and dated ‘1861’ (lower right). Oil on panel. 6 7/8 x 11 in. (17.2 x 28 cm.); and smaller.

with Gooden & Fox, London.

Lear travelled through Albania and Macedonia in 1848 and his journals of that time give an insight into the country and its customs during the 19th century. They detail some of the challenges and romance of travelling through a country previously unseen by many foreigners. He was particularly struck by the beauty of Monastir (Bitola): ‘the bustle and brilliancy….is remarkable…a river runs through the town…. either look up or down the river, the intermixture of minarets and mosques, with cypress and willow foliage, forms subjects of the most admirable beauty.’ (B. Destani (ed.), Edward Lear in Albania: Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans, London, 2008, p. 21). Parga ‘from every point… lovely’ was observed to be ‘very unlike Albanian landscape in general’ (op.cit., p. 184) but rather closer to Calabria and Amalfi. Both the present paintings were worked up from sketches several years later, as Lear found working outdoors in Albania presented one unforseen challenge: many locals thought his activities the work of the devil and he was often driven away from his chosen vantage point.


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Edward Lear, Near Suez (1849)

Edward Lear, Near Suez, evening, 15 January 1849.
Watecolour with pen in brown ink over graphite on moderately  thick, rough, beige wove paper. 13.3 x 23.2 cm.
Yale Center for British Art. Gift of D. Gallup.

From Braeuner, Hélène. “British Travellers in teh Isthmus of Suez from 1798 to 1859.” In Caroline Lehni (ed.). Geographies of Contact: Britain, the Middle East and the Circulation of Knowledge. Strasbourg: Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2019. 149-160. 155.

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Edward Lear, Monte Soratte near Rome

Edward Lear, Monte Soratte near Rome, Italy.
Signed twice with monogram and indistinctly dated ’18[?]’ (lower right) and inscribed and numbered ‘6 SORACTE. [sic.]/Brock.6. Corso d’Italia Rome.’ (on the stretcher). Oil on canvas. 9 ½ x 18 ½ in. (24.1 x 47 cm.)

With Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 1970, where purchased by
Sir John Ward, G.C.M.G., and by descent to the present owner.

Lear first arrived in Rome in December 1837, and he lived in the city on and off until 1848, returning again in the winters of 1859-60, 1871 and 1877. The city and its surroundings inspired his first travel book Views in Rome and its environs, published in 1841, complete with panoramic lithographs of the scenery. Monte Soracte, or Soratte, lies north of Rome near Nepi, halfway to Viterbo. Although the inscription has faded the painting may date to the 1880s: at least one studio drawing of the subject from 1883 is known, presumably based on an earlier sketch, and was sold in these Rooms on 12 November 1996.


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