I
They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter's morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, 'You'll all be drowned!'
They called aloud, 'Our Sieve ain't big,
But we don't care a button! we don't care a fig!
In a Sieve we'll go to sea!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

II 
They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,
'O won't they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it's extremely wrong
In a Sieve to sail so fast!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

III 
The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, 'How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

IV 
And all night long they sailed away;
And when the sun went down,
They whistled and warbled a moony song
To the echoing sound of a coppery gong,
In the shade of the mountains brown.
'O Timballo! How happy we are,
When we live in a Sieve and a crockery-jar,
And all night long in the moonlight pale,
We sail away with a pea-green sail,
In the shade of the mountains brown!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

V
They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

VI 
And in twenty years they all came back,
In twenty years or more,
And every one said, 'How tall they've grown!
For they've been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,
And the hills of the Chankly Bore!'
And they drank their health, and gave them a feast
Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;
And every one said, 'If we only live,
We too will go to sea in a Sieve,---
To the hills of the Chankly Bore!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

--Edward Lear

Edward Lear's poetry is flawless for the times. There's nothing like The Jumblies to put my daily voyage on the high-tech seas into perspective. A coherent narrative by the second stanza I discovered myself wondering what would happen to
these . . . things . . . on such a spirited adventure in so unseaworthy a ship.

Lear was born May 12, 1812 and like Dante Gabriel Rosetti, also born on May 12, Lear was a landscape painter. Travelling in Greece and Italy under the patronage of the Earl of Derby for whose children he created the Book of Nonesense (1846). But the similarities end here and Lear could hardly be more different because unlike Rossetti, Lear did not take literature seriously.

Timlessly classic, Carl Sagan was inspired to use the verse:

Few and far, far and few
Are the lands where the Jumblies live:
Their heads are green and their hands are blue;
And they went to sea in a sieve.

As his lead in to chapter 29 in Intelligent Life in the Universe (1966), which walks the reader through the now classic estimation of the number of technological civilizations in our galaxy. He use of the rhyme encapsulated the folly of casting fragile living bodies into the void of space, when radio signals would serve nearly as well.

On it's surface one meaning of The Jumblies is clear -- they gratify themselves not by obedience but by defiance of common sense and the views of the majority. They come with strangely colored heads and hands from far away and the Jumblies are not only "far" but "few." Outsiders and nonconformists breaking from convention to show a path that others might follow. Much of the poem's delight lies in the fragile use of details -- the "pinky paper all folded neat," in the "lovely Monkey with lollipop paws." Heartwarming are the traces of imagery found in the verses -- in the sieve, in the "small tobacco-pipe mast," in the "crockery-jar" in which they pass the night -- a picture in words of the physical smallness and frailty of the Jumblies.

A whimsical and jolly poem written in couplets, triplets, and quatrains, Lear excelled at inventing place names using repetition as in Quangle Wangle. Edgar Allan Poe made up half the places he wrote about. So did Coleridge. Lear and Tennyson held each other's work in high regard; his charm and spontaneous nonsense has been carried on by later writers, such as Laura E. Richards (Tirra Lirra (1932) and A.A. Milne (When We Were Very Young, 1924 ), Dr. Seuss was much influenced by him. Lear's invented words, some of which now hold a place in the dictionary, his "melobious" metres, as he called them along with his ridiculously-compressed stories were altogether novel in 1846. Indeed, they were as "far and few, far and few," as "the lands where the Jumblies lived." And they were as hilariously funny to Lear himself as they were to his readers.

Awaiting children in Edward Lear's nonsense world is gentle satire.....super-cautious and overly protective are the adults who leap to conclusions, assume the worst but by the end change their mind and join the Jumblies who go to sea in a sieve, and "all came back in twenty years, or more." Most children's literature writers were painters first; literature was a sideline during the times and the composition date is unknown. He originally dashed off these verses for the amusement of the children, but the idea soon became infused with his deep alienation from Victorian society. A canonical verse from the Victorian Age it first appeared 1846, was expanded by Lear in 1861; further expanded upon in 1863. The poem is not really nonsense at all, but a beautifully profound allegory comparable to the Alice stories by Lewis Carroll, a contemporary and a rich breeding-ground for nonsense writing -- "It is not too much to say that Lear is a powerful poet in his world of nonsense," said Angus Ross.

His name is synonymous with nonsense verse and this might be an indication of Lear's character that he wrote nonsense extremely well. As a teen he found artistic work drawing zoological specimens for illustrated books and gave drawing lessons to Queen Victoria. Plagued by epilepsy and depression he left England after 1837 returning only occasionally until his death at San Remo in January 1888.

Sources:

Edward Lear:
http://members.fortunecity.com/beatlesound/lear_edward.htm

Nelson Bentley - Children's Literature Writing Workshop:
www.oz.net/~beastly/child-wp.htm

Tasty Bits from the Technology Front:
www.tbtf.com/archive/1997-09-01.html

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