"The Owl and the Pussycat" is a poem written by Edward Lear. It was originally published in 1871 in Lear’s book Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets. As even stated in the title of his book, Lear became known for his nonsensical writing.
This poem is composed of three stanzas. Each stanza contains eleven lines, two of which are short repetitions. The rhyme scheme for each stanza is ABABCDCD with the final three lines being composed of a short two-line refrain and ending in a repetition of the eighth line. Each ABABCDCD scheme is unique to every stanza; in other words, it is ABABCDCD, EFEFGHGH, and IJIJKLKL. The meter is very measured which lends to a nice, musical reading of the poem.
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 poem begins with the reader knowing the Owl and Pussycat are together and heading on a voyage. It is not made immediately clear what kind of journey the two are taking. However, it is obvious they are prepared for the adventure upon which they are about to embark. Given the poet was from England and from an earlier era, readers may not be entirely familiar with a five-pound note. Simply put, a five-pound note is money.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
After knowing the Owl and Pussycat are headed toward an unknown destination together, we finally come to understand it is likely some kind of amorous relationship. This is very well set up with the romantic scene of the stars in the night sky, the two alone on a "beautiful pea-green boat," and the Owl serenading the Pussycat. The musical structure of the poem is especially obvious in the last four lines of the stanza. If read aloud, it presents as very sing-song and lends to the nonsensical and fun nature of the poem.
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
This shows the singing of the Owl is not only impressive but very sweet. It wins over the heart of the Pussycat. Based off the Pussycat wanting to marry, the Owl serenading, and the romantic scene, it can be concluded the two have either been together or in love for quite some time. This is further evidenced by the Pussycat’s proclamation that "too long [they] have tarried." This means they have waited or delayed the commitment and marriage for a long time. It suggests the two waited through a period of time in which love was already present. The Pussycat then goes on to ask about the wedding ring, as it was a sudden decision to marry at this point in time.
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
After such strong declarations, the two begin their voyage. They travel somewhere far, but special, given the occasion. The Bong tree is fictional and was coined by Lear in this poem. It adds to the nonsensical nature and to the magic of the love and marriage in the story unfolded in the poem.
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
The fun nature of the poem continues with the description of the pig and the ring on his nose. This pig is the answer to the question posed earlier by the Pussycat. They have now found a ring and, thus, can finally marry each other. After a long journey, the time has arrived. Once again, the structure here lends to musicality when read aloud. It is especially fitting at the end of this stanza, where it would seem the Owl and the Pussycat would celebrate finding a ring.
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
Here, the reader is reminded that the Owl and Pussycat were prepared for their journey. Though it was not stated outright that this was a story about a wedding, the two were well prepared for everything.
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;
Though the physical voyage took very long, once the two arrived at their destination, they quickly found a ring and a minister to get married. Once again, it is noteworthy that animals of all kinds are behaving as humans and coexisting peacefully. The Owl and Pussycat even celebrate the marriage with others by having a feast. The word "runcible" is yet another word invented by Lear for this poem. This word has now been definied by the Oxford English Dictionary and refers to a curved fork with three broad prongs, one with a sharp edge. Given the fork can be used as a spoon as well and can be used to cut with the sharp edge, it contributes to the Owl and Pussycat being always prepared.
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
The poem ends with the Owl and Pussycat at water’s edge, once again, this time together physically by linking hands. It ends on a happy note with the singsong type of meter used in the repeating last lines.
The poem is the story of the owl and the pussycat on the road to marriage. It is about their travel and the issues they face until all is finally settled and they can wed. In this poem, the nonsensical aspect may mostly be attributed to the animals talking and behaving as people would. In addition, the mixture of animals is extremely unlikely in the real world.
The themes of this poem are love, marriage, and harmony. These are all evidenced by the story itself, where an Owl and Pussycat travel to get married because they are in love. Considering the difference in animals, including those who helped them, a harmony of coexistence is also shown.