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The Owl and the Pussy-Cat facts for kids

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The Owl and the Pussy-Cat 
by Edward Lear
Edward Lear's illustration of the Owl and the Pussycat
Illustrator Edward Lear
Country United Kingdom
Meter or
Publication date 1867
Read online "The Owl and the Pussy-Cat" at Wikisource

"The Owl and the Pussy-cat" is a nonsense poem by Edward Lear, first published during 1871 as part of his book Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets. Lear wrote the poem for a three-year-old girl, Janet Symonds, the daughter of Lear's friend poet John Addington Symonds and his wife Catherine Symonds. The term "runcible", used for the phrase "runcible spoon", was invented for the poem.


"The Owl and the Pussy-cat" features four anthropomorphic animals – an owl, a cat, a pig, and a turkey – and tells the story of the love between the title characters who marry in the land "where the Bong-tree grows".

The Owl and the Pussy-cat set out to sea in a pea green boat with honey and "plenty of money" wrapped in a five-pound note. The Owl serenades the Pussy-cat while gazing at the stars and strumming on a small guitar. The Owl describes the Pussy-cat as beautiful. The Pussy-cat responds by describing the Owl as an "elegant fowl" and compliments the bird's singing. The Pussy-cat urges that they marry; however, they do not have a ring. They sail away for a year and a day to a land where bong trees grow and discover a pig with a ring in his nose in a wood. They buy the ring for a shilling and are married the next day by a turkey. They dine on mince and quince using a "runcible spoon", then dance hand-in-hand on the sand in the moonlight.

Unfinished sequel

Portions of an unfinished sequel, "The Children of the Owl and the Pussy-cat" were published first posthumously, during 1938. The children are part fowl and part cat, and love to eat mice.

The family live by places with strange names. The Cat dies, falling from a tall tree, making the Owl become a single parent. The death causes the Owl great sadness. The money is all spent, but the Owl still sings to the original guitar.


Edward Lear The Owl and the Pussy Cat 2
The "piggy-wig" in the land of Bong-trees
  • Beatrix Potter wrote a prequel, The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, telling the background story of the pig character.
  • The story has been set to music and animated many times, such as by:
    • Igor Stravinsky in 1966, using twelve-tone technique; a recording was made under the composer's supervision for Columbia Records
    • Victor Hely-Hutchinson
    • Burl Ives
    • Hugh "Lumpy" Brannum, aka Mr. Greenjeans; which appeared on a special anthology of children's songs put out by Columbia Records, entitled: Greatest Hits For the Children You Love
    • Humphrey Searle in 1951, using twelve-tone technique for the accompanying flute, guitar, and cello, but sprechgesang for the vocal part
    • Laurie Anderson composed "Beautiful Pea Green Boat" and recorded it on her 1994 album Bright Red.
    • Terrytoons adapted the poem in animation twice with a black-and-white version in 1934 and a color version in 1939. The 1939 version had the first appearance of Sourpuss who was later paired with Gandy Goose.
    • John Rutter set the lyrics for choir a cappella in the collection Five Childhood Lyrics, first performed in 1973.
    • Elton Hayes made a recording of the Hely-Hutchinson setting for Parlophone. during 1953. It became a regular item on the radio programme Children's Favourites and was one of six Edward Lear recordings he made.
    • Dave Benson Phillips sang the first verse of the poem set to music, accompanied with the words being signed in Makaton sign language on the video Makaton Nursery Rhymes.
  • In the book Explorers on the Moon, the seventeenth volume of The Adventures of Tintin, first published in 1959, Captain Haddock is shown to be singing a slightly modified version of the last line of this poem, replacing Moon with Earth (sic: "And they danced by the light of the Earth").
  • The 1965 film Fun in Balloon Land contains references to the poem, and refers to the Turkey as "The Marrying Turkey".
  • It was the main topic of The Owl and the Pussycat Went to See..., a 1968 children's musical play about Lear's nonsense poems. The play was written by Sheila Ruskin and David Wood.
  • The title was borrowed for an unrelated stage play written by Bill Manhoff, first produced on Broadway in 1964, and the subsequent 1970 movie, featuring Barbra Streisand and George Segal.
  • During 1971, a cartoon based on the poem was made by Weston Woods.
  • In Walt Disney's 1968 animated featurette Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, later a part of 1977's The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the character Owl mentions a relative of his who supposedly "went to sea in a pea-green boat" with a Pussy-cat.
  • In the Amazing Animals episode Nighttime Animals, Henry the Lizard mentions this poem in his report.
  • In 1998, Roscoe Lee Browne performed a recording of this poem on Creative Records.
  • In 1998, Naxos Records produced album "Seven Ages: An Anthology of Poetry with Music" which contains a recording of John Cleese reading The Owl and the Pussycat on track 15.
  • Composer Deborah Kavasch of the Extended Vocal Techniques Ensemble (established at the University of California, San Diego, 1972) composed The Owl and the Pussycat, a setting of the poem, for the ensemble. It was published in 1980 by Edition Reimers.
  • In Part One of the 1993 movie Dandelion Dead, the poem is recited by the children before they go to bed.
  • Eric Idle, a former member of Monty Python, wrote a children's book The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat based on the poem. In this extended story, the pair are attacked by a band of ruthless rats who were trying to steal pies. The book was illustrated by Wesla Weller and was first published during 1996 with an audio version which included some songs by Idle himself.
  • In The Roald Dahl Treasury has an alternate version of the poem in which the Pussycat rejects the Owl after he offers her gin and caviar, instead wishing for a nice Tomcat.
  • Between 2001 and 2003, Stewart Lee wrote and performed a show, Pea Green Boat, which includes an extended version of the story of "The Owl and the Pussycat" as well as the original poem. A 21-minute version of the show has been made available commercially.
  • In 2004, the folk duo Sandwich (Buddy Freebury and Andrea Hallier) recorded a musical version of the poem to a tune written by band member Andrea (Hallier) Freebury. It was recorded on their third album, Crystal Ball.
  • Sananda Maitreya's sixth album, Angels & Vampires – Volume II, includes a track, "The Owl and the Pussycat".
  • In 2013, Julia Donaldson and Charlotte Voake published The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat, a sequel to Lear's poem.
  • In 2015, Kate Ceberano performed the poem as a song on her album, Lullaby.
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