Edward Lear

Edward Lear and John Milton:  Truth in Poetry

I love Edward Lear because he makes me laugh.  I care for John Milton because he takes me deep inside human beliefs.  Both Edward Lear and John Milton wrote genuine poems.  A poem may be a fictional construct, but the feeling it springs from and the intelligence which informs it have to be true.  This does not  mean that a poem has to be solemn.  To be true, to be genuine, a poem may be drawn from the deepest  most sincere  feelings and thoughts  of the human spirit, as in John Milton’s epic achievement.  Poetry may, like most of Edward Lear’s work, be thoroughly playful.  In either instance, the poet needs the right words, and the poet also needs the genuine impulse which gives it heart, which makes it live.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Poetry may, like most of Edward Lear’s work, be thoroughly playful.  I love Edward Lear because he makes me laugh.  I admire John Milton because he invites me deep into human beliefs which matter to thousands of people. Thing is, each poet is masterful in composing the kind of poem he chose to write, and neither poet, I feel certain, would be able to express himself in the form chosen by the other.  Even the thought of Milton trying to write a Lear limerick makes me laugh.  Impossible!  And as for Edward Lear attempting an iambic pentameter epic?  Ridiculous.

Edward Lear:   as genuine a poet as John Milton

But when they play in their own backyard, compose their own kind of poem, they are equally successful because, I think, they are equally genuine.  One of my own favorites:  Edward Lear’s “On the top of the Crumpetty Tree / The Quangle Wangle sat, /But his face you could not see/ On account of his Beaver Hat” and the rest of it.  Now this, to my mind, is an immortal poem, and I bet Edward Lear was laughing when he wrote it.  And I bet Milton, on the other hand, was not smiling when he wrote:  “Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit of that Forbidden Tree /Whose mortal taste brought Death into the World/ And all our Woe” and so on.  A master of language, he pulled those words out of his strongest beliefs.  Both of the examples are fictions.  Both of these are poems.  Both are immortal.  And by reason of their words, so are Edward Lear and John Milton, poets.

Edward Lear:


Edward Lear

So what’s the difference?  And there certainly is a world of difference.


short poems

About three years ago I found myself writing very short poems from time to time, observations about minor matters instead of the longer descriptive or narratives I was accustomed to get involved in.  So yesterday I tried to arrange them into some kind of  order.  One per page plus the extra  materials such as title page and various acknowledgements and contents could make a 75 page book.  A few of them had already been published.  So that’s on my mind today.  What kind of order can be imposed upon a good number of disparate subjects?  I resolved the matter by noting to myself that there were Human activities,  observations about creatures (dog, cat bees),  a group I call “What we made” which noted art and museums and furniture and so on, and a group called Nature.  Well, of course the categories often overlapped.  Does a poem about a spider on a flower belong with nature or with creatures?  A spider on a statue belong with creatures or with art?  I suspect I will end up with just plain whatever strikes me at the time, decisions which may not hold up for any defensible reason.  Just how it is when it happens.  And the book is a long time off.

I was wrong

I posted a mistake yesterday.  “commodified’ or whatever its form was is a perfectly good word and it means exactly what Doug Gwynn intended, which is to say made into a commodity, not, as I thought, modified together, so to speak.  I still think he would  and could have said what he intended in some much simpler way.  We spoke of him as a good pastoral minister, but despite his fairly important books, he is not a very good writer.  Too high falutin’.  But when I asked, I was told he didn’t talk the way he writes, and that’s a plus.

discussion on “covenant”

At a meeting of about 15 friends last night, we had a curious discussion supposedly about the meaning of “covenant.”  I see this generally speaking as an agreement of some sort between two beings, or parties.  We got off the track a lot, since the book which posed the question [Gwynn’s “The Covenant Crucified”] tossed in a lot of ancient and middle history which is, by its nature, open to interpretation.  Also, because I am a writer, I was very much put off by the almost deliberate obfuscation of the style.  EG:  “the gerontocratic rule of the elders], which says the same thing twice, and ‘commodified forms of temple-centered observance.’  ‘modified’ would say the same thing, and the entire phrase could easily be covered in ‘various forms of temple ritual.’  But I kept reading because the man was trying so hard to put across something which mattered to him.  But for me a basic rule is to remember that SIMPLICITY IS AN ACHIEVEMENT.   or IT’S HARD TO BE SIMPLE.  It is also worth the effort.


Every time I go out in my car, and I don’t go out often, I am amazed by the great number of other cars on the road, even at, say, 10:am on a Tuesday.  I don’t understand how that many people have enough money to be on the road what with the price of gas, and a lot of the cars look new.  Mine is old and is covered with the marks of wet cat paws no matter when I clean it.  Mine also doesn’t use much gas.  And when it’s not as cold as it is this January morning, I usually walk.  But I’m really old, so I don’t go far, even though I used to run several miles a day back when I was fifty.  The car is for when I need to carry something heavy, like a gallon of milk or a few potatoes   Not as spry as I once was.

Shoal of Time

What I’m {re}reading now is Gavan Daws’ Shoal of Time. very basic history of Hawaii.  I have a hard back copy bought in the last century, and I’m really having a good time. (well, I’m also down with a sore throat so it’s not as good as it could be.)  It reminds me of stuff I’ve gathered over the years I lived in Hawaii.  good book.  Readily readable.  But I laughed out loud with a kind of happiness when the king gave a speech consisting only of “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono.”  I think that’s how you spell it.  It’s about the only phrase I can easily say, though I took at least a year of Hawaiian language at Univ. HI when I taught there, then stopped, partly because my daughter is fluent, actually teaches elementary school science in Hawaiian.  !! and my two grandsons are also fluent.  Well, anyhow, I am really enjoying the book, and when the painful past gets too much for me I go for easy relief to one or another of my 20 or more books by Dick Francis, which always cheer me up, since the central “I” is always likable and I like his sense of morality, what’s “right,” and goes through life, usually gets the girl as well as figures out the problems he’s faced with, so I can close with a feeling of satisfaction.  OK, back to Shoal.

Edgar Sawtelle Book I just read (Oprah liked it)

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is, as a friend told me, fascinating, though not exactly gripping, to my mind.  It is strange.  It suggests engaging possibilities experienced by Edgar, son of a dog breeder/trainer,  who can hear and sign and write but is unable to speak.  The details of how he and the dogs interact as well as his behavior with his loved mother and father are carefully descriptive and sound real, genuine.  The essential plot is believable, and the characteristics of the son, Edgar, inter-related–ie, he cannot speak, but he can almost see and understand communication with people who have died.  Wroblewski makes it all sound credible.  I can say I liked the book, read it right through, but found it most disturbing rather than exactly satisfying.  But what do I know?

Royalty Arrival

A couple of days ago I received a nice royalty check from the publishers of Hello, House.  Sometimes people actually pay for poems.

Just getting started

It will take me a while  to find out how to do this but I have an able teacher.  Meanwhile, I am happy about how my lightweight new book is doing.  Hello, House, (poems about domestic jobs, each one illustrated by Maxine Hong Kingston).  One friend likes “Domestic Violence” about beating rugs.  Garrison Keillor liked “Cleaning the Bathroom.”  I like “Divided Joy.”