Friday, July 06, 2007

to the land of the bong tree

We leave for Denmark tomorrow, and as I was reading The Owl and the Pussycat today, Lear's verse on interracial romance, I thought I'd share my idea about it. In stagings and recordings of the poem, the owl is typically played by a male, the cat by a female. But it seems to me the cat is the male and the owl the female. (Did you already think this, too?) Except for the piggy-wig, Lear avoids gender pronouns, so I can’t prove this. And if I mention that the owl is a symbol for the goddess Athena it probably won’t convince you either. But look at Lear’s illustration.

1. The owl leans back and sings to a small guitar. In English society, it was the female who was musically trained to entertain suitors. And the pussycat is steering the beautiful pea-green boat, a task usually left to a man. (note that the cat’s tail is standing straight up.)
2. Following the owl’s song, the pussycat makes the marriage proposal, also typically the territory of the male.
3. In the second illustration, where the owl and pussycat meet the piggy-wig, the cat looks downright burly, lurking above the bowed owl who passes the shilling along to the pig. It is, after all, Lear's illustration, not someone else's imagining.

(Of course Lear began a poem concering the children of this pair, which poses the cat as the mother, so perhaps I am all shot to hell. But taken on its own, I can't help but imagine the cat as a slinky tom. And the sequel was nowhere near as good as the ambiguous original.)

And I have many other questions and ideas about this lovely verse, which like most parents I have recited many many a bedtime. For example, what is a bong tree? Does it resemble a hookah, or sound like a gong? Why do they only bring honey? Are they fleeing persecution? If there’s plenty of money, why pay just a shilling for the ring? And do they eat the quince with a runcible spoon, as in by means of, or do they eat the spoon along with the quince?


Anonymous said...

I agree with you Sarah. Don't think a woman would have been at the helm either.


Liz said...

Interesting post, Sarah.

Have a terrific holiday.


sam of the ten thousand things said...

I like your ideas, Sarah. Good points that make perfect sense to me.

Erin said...

'The Owl And The Pussycat' is a book I read to the little boy I baby sat for a year & a half a few years back. He loved it, less for the story than for the pictures. I disagree, but he was 2 & 3, so I forgave him.

Point is, the story is entirely out of whack, not to mention out of date. But to readers who delight in pure oddity, it's a joy & a reward.

LaurieByro said...

I think there is another poem about the owl and the pussycat having a child. But all indicators from Lear himself was that the owl was the male and the pussycat the female. If I'm right about the poem I think it says it in that.

Found it:

I know they eventually divorce...

Our mother was the Pussy Cat, our father was the Owl,
And so we're partly little beasts, and partly little fowl,
The brothers of our family have feathers and they hoot,
While all the sisters dress in fur and have long tails to boot.....
Our mother died long years ago. She was a lovely cat
Her tail was 5 feet long, and grey with stripes, but what of that?.....

verene said...

Excellent feed. By the way I am working on the Owl and Pussy-cat poem, and would welcome you input: most of the info is on myspace's page and there is a link to a BBC thread that might interest you as well.
Anyway, I hope you will look at the page:
Have a nice trip and do tell us if you find out what a bong tree is.


Anonymous said...

as far as the runcible spoon goes. The spoon could mean a bite, as in I had a spoon of cereal, and runcible could be describing the size or type of bite.

Anonymous said...

One of my classes is studying this poem at the moment.
They would love to know what a Bong Tree looks like.
We have found out that a runcible spoon is half spoon and half 3 pronged fork. A bit like a pickle fork I suppose!

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