“There was an Old Man in a boat,
Who said, ‘I’m afloat, I’m afloat!’
When they said, ‘No! You ain’t’
He was ready to faint,
That unhappy Old Man in a boat.”
~Edward Lear, A Book of Nonsense
There’s something about Edward Lear’s limericks that are comically close to life. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the rhyme or the concept it conveys. Both combine for a rather blunt, energetic delivery. The whole thing is very matter of fact and it hits you with full force. In five lines he gives you five reasons to believe that nonsense is normal.
Take his oft-used opening:
“There was an Old Man in a boat…”
“There was an old person from Ischia…”
“There was a Young Lady of Hull…”
There was. There was. There was.
There was someone and something happened to that someone. And not just any something. Something absurd. Something weird. Something bizarre.
And yet, in a strange way…
Just like the absurd, weird, bizarre people themselves. They are also relatable. Young, old, big-nosed, bearded, or married, they are all a little quirky. They are all a little like us.
And in that sense, they are all a little normal.
They are all a little human.
In other words, by telling it like it was, Lear actually tells it like it is. The content may be a little different, but the form is basically the same.
I mean, how many of us have found ourselves in ridiculous situations, partly due to our own ridiculous natures?
I know I have. I may not be an Old Man, but I have definitely thought myself afloat when I was actually in a sinking boat. Who hasn’t?
And usually, people are pretty quick to point it out to us. Most of us do not have the luxury of hiding our nonsensical moments. They just happen. Anytime, anywhere, right in plain view.
Then the question becomes: How do we respond?
Do we faint? Do we scream? Do we sigh? Ignore it? Run away? Or…
…do we laugh?
That’s what Lear did. Only, he went one step further. He made others laugh as well. He wrote limericks to remind us that nonsense happens to everyone. It’s life. Don’t take it seriously all of the time, or you’ll miss out on the perks of what it has to offer. The least we can get out of our embarrassing moments is a good chuckle. When faced with the choice of sinking and swimming, we can choose to swim.
Perhaps a good question to ask ourselves is: If our lives were composed as limericks, what would they read like? Would we be able to find the humour in them?
Though I’m no Lear, I thought I’d give it a try.
There was a Young Woman with sense,
Whose brain was also quite dense,
She thought wrong and thought right,
Late into the night.
That dense Young Woman with sense.
Is it a surprise that a smart young woman who has frequently dense moments would be attracted to the topic of nonsense? I think not. Is it a surprise that an intelligent, sophisticated artist like Lear would write it? No.
Laughter is light. Nonsense is deep. Depending on your comfort level you can swim at the surface, floating on its silliness, or dive down into the depths of its complexities. No matter how you take the plunge, it’s refreshing. Like Lear’s limericks.
I hope you get to live some limericks today. But more than that, I hope you get to laugh them off and that you emerge from the experience refreshed.
Speaking of refreshed, I think it’s time for tea.