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Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry$
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James Williams and Matthew Bevis

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198708568

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198708568.001.0001

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Edward Lear, John Ashbery, and the Pleasant Surprise

Edward Lear, John Ashbery, and the Pleasant Surprise

Chapter:
(p.347) 17 Edward Lear, John Ashbery, and the Pleasant Surprise
Source:
Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry
Author(s):

Stephen Ross

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198708568.003.0018

Throughout his career, and increasingly in the later work, John Ashbery has maintained a vibrant dialogue with the English nonsense tradition. Edward Lear in particular has accompanied Ashbery from the start as a crucial interlocutor. This essay surveys some of the highlights of that conversation, focusing on Ashbery’s early, macabre rewriting of ‘How Pleasant To Know Mr. Lear!’ and later, lighter engagement with poems such as ‘The Four Little Children Who Went Around the World’ and ‘The Dong with a Luminous Nose’. What continuously draws Ashbery to Lear is his genius for the ‘pleasant surprise’, which Ashbery has called ‘the one essential ingredient for great art’. Long read after the modernist lights of figures such as Wallace Stevens and W. H. Auden, Ashbery enjoys an equally strong affinity to Lear and his ‘ludicrously whirligig’ art of sudden shifts.

Keywords:   Edward Lear, John Ashbery, surprise, nonsense, New York School, twentieth-century American poetry

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