Sunday, June 18, 2006

How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear

Edward Lear is first on my list of a hundred authors, if you want something to read during chemotherapy or radiation. I'm serious. His limericks are perfect little essays on everything human and inhumane. When everyone is staring at your bald head, read this limerick:

There was a young person of Ayr
Whose head was remarkably square;
On the top, in fine weather, she wore a gold feather;
Which dazzled the people of Ayr.

In Lear's illustration, the men of Ayr are more horrified than dazzled by her bald, cubic head, embellished with ribbon and feather. But you have to give the girl credit for her flair.

Feeling nauseous? Lear covers that too, this time with one of his "Old Persons."

There was an Old Person whose habits
Induced him to feed upon Rabbits;
When he'd eaten eighteen, he turned perfectly green,
Upon which he relinquished those habits.

Lear's Old Person was a victim of his own gluttony, but the result was the same as from too much chemotherapy.

Or perhaps you're down about your latest treatment. Then here's the verse for you:

There was an old man whose despair
Induced him to purchase a hare:
Whereon one fine day, he rode wholly away,
Which partly assuaged his despair.

I know, at times, I would like to ride a rabbit away.

Joseph Campbell insists that the heroic journey must include separation, initiation and return. Separation from the healthy, trial by treatment and a triumphant return (you hope) to health. But Edward Lear wasn't a big fan of the return. He knew you couldn't count on it. His characters tended to go off to some sort of utopia and never come back.

But I am in a dark mood tonight. Lear also covers joy magnificently, particularly in this verse:

There was a Young Lady whose bonnet,
Came untied when the birds sate upon it;
But she said, "I don't care! all the birds of the air
Are welcome to sit on my bonnet!"

How I have wanted to be that woman in a hat in Lear's illustration, pirouetting with owls and crows and ducks. Clearly that woman knows life is about dancing.

Best, jumbliegirl


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