From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Edward Lear: Stuff, nonsense and limericks

(Masada on the Dead Sea, Edward Lear, 1858)
Being the 21st child in any family is no laughing matter.  Perhaps this is how Edward Lear discovered - early on - that when life makes no sense, it’s time to make nonsense.

Lear also needed to cope with extreme health difficulties.  From childhood on, he suffered from grand mal seizures, which people of his day attributed to demonic possession.  In order to avoid the humiliation of that stereotype, Lear became adept at predicting when his seizures would come, and at removing himself from public when they did.  He also suffered with bouts of severe depression, as well as with asthma, bronchitis, eventual partial blindness and heart disease.

The visual-arts “stuff” that Lear produced is all the more remarkable in light of these challenges.  As a teenager, he was already showing a great deal of artistic promise, and soon he was employed as an ornithological draughtsman.  His depictions of birds were compared favorably to those of Audobon.  According to Wikipedia, one of Lear’s lifelong ambitions was to illustrate the poems of Lord Alfred Tennyson.

Although Lear didn’t invent the limerick, his 212 original ones (many of which are in his 1845 Book of Nonsense) did much to popularize its catchy format.  Although Lear’s limericks were chuckle-inducing, they were not necessarily philosophically enlightening (unless, of course, humor itself is a form of enlightenment).

Today’s limericks continue to enchant – with some even resembling mini-sermons.  Self-described “teacher, student, writer, reluctant poet, and creative consultant” Gator 326 offers this one (amongst others):

Claiming that God is found in one holy book
Is the act of a selfish, closed-minded crook.
For what our God taught
Would all be for naught
If we fail to see Him wherever we look.

There are numerous other religious limericks in print.  Some are quite striking, although far less “tame” than either your average sermon or Lear’s gentle tales…


Copyright May 12, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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