Pelican Chorus and Other Nonsense Verse by Edward Lear
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
There is, frankly, no such thing as bad nonsense, at least not as Edward Lear made it. He was a man of many virtues. The man never painted an uninteresting bird, a less than lovely landscape, or looked less than dapper in his check suits and runcible hat. He also produced the greatest nonsense in English -- so called. The Pobble Who Has No Toes, The Quangle Wangle's Hat, and yes, the Pelican Chorus would all be canonical, I should think, and "canonical" a word Mr. Lear would have loved saying, come to that. (Do try it.) That the great Mr. Lear could and did produce verse of, shall we say, not quite the first pond, is also evidenced here. Need I add that for me at least, the least of Lear is better still than the best of well nigh anyone else? Even the truly twee Mr. and Mrs. Spikky Sparrrow, with it's rather shrill and unconvincing chorus, can not turn me from this book.
One thing that sometimes will turn me, is illustration other than the author's attached to his poems. There is no more perfect and inextricable picture of an old man with birds nested in his beard than Lear's startled old gent. What's more, like Lewis Carroll, too many indifferent illustrators have assumed, from the look of some of the result, that almost anyone could do the job if not better than at least as well as the original. Doubly insulting in the case of the talented visual artist and poet, Lear, no? (I even own and edition of the nonsense in which some later "artist' has just smoothed all the rough out of Lear's own pictures; in this way making what can look frighteningly funny and sometimes quite modern, instead look insipid. Whoever was it thought such a thing a good idea?!)
If, on the other hand, a genuinely gifted fellow like L. Brooke, whoever he (or she?) might be (or surely by now "have been,") when such a professional takes up the task of not bettering but making some verse of Lear his (or her) own, well, grudgingly I must admit this can be good. It is here. The pictures are polished, bright and pretty. True, those three words are just about the antithesis of Lear's pictures, but that may be why the new pictures work as well as they do. (There may also be an advantage in illustrating what may not be the best of.
Not to pick on the poor little birds, but really, it's only when the verse is a bit too light, as with the Sparrows here, that at least Brooke's color plate looks like just so much Edwardian nursery furniture.)
Whatever the rank of these poems in the larger Lear -- and what's better than Edward Lear enlarged? -- this remains a pretty little volume, in color and plain pen and ink, and not a bad book for the collection.
"No other Birds so grand we see!"
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