On the Coast of Coromandel

Vivien Noakes, in her edition of Edward Lear’s Complete Verse and Other Nonsense (London: Penguin, 2001; pp.517-8), mentions as a source for “The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò” a Great Wolford, Worcestershire, mummers’ play, in which the Fool says:

In comes I fidler Wit
My head’s so large, me wits so small
I’ve brought me fidler to please you all.
Toll-de-roll the tinder box
Father died the other night
And left me all his riches,
A wooden leg, a feather bed,
And a pair of leather breeches,
A coffee pot without a spout,
A jug without a handle,
A guinea pig without a wig,
And half a farthing candle.

Were it not for the fact that Tennyson’s “Frater Ave atque Vale” was written in June 1880 while Lear’s poem was finished by 11 December 1871 and first published in Laughable Lyrics (1877), Davidson’s suggestion of an influence would be attractive; as it is, we must think that the poet laureate’s poem was influenced by Lear’s song.

The setting and tone for “The Coutship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò” might rather have been suggested by Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber’s “The Coromandel Lament”, which appeared in his 1853 collection Rhymes, With Reason and Without (Boston: A. Tompkins and B. B. Mussey Co.). The poem, “supposed to represent the feelings of a Coromandel chief in captivity, was written for music. The incident is mainly true.”

In the Coromandel country I was born,
    Far away, far away;
And happy was I at night and morn,
    In the Coromandel country, far away:
        Where the birds sang free
        In the banyan tree,
    In the Coromandel country, all the day.

Ah, fearful was the fight where my father was slain,
    Far away, far away;
When first I felt the captor’s chain,
    In the Coromandel country, far away:
        Where the breeze blows free
        Over land and over sea
    In the Coromandel country, far away.

The cruel men bore me the waters o’er,
    Far away, far away,
From kindred and home I may never see more,
    In the Coromandel country, far away:
        From the green palm tree
        That overshadowed me,
    In the Coromandel country, far away.

But tyrants never can bind our dreams,
    Far away, far away;
Again in my sleep the warm sun gleams,
    In the Coromandel country, far away;
        Again on the tree
        Sings the bird for me,
    In the Coromandel country, far away.

O, welcome the hour when friendly Death,
    Far away, far away,
Shall waft my spirit with his breath
    To the Coromandel country, far away;
        Ever there to rest,
        In freedom blest,
    In the Coromandel country, far away.

The melancholy atmosphere of the lyric perfectly fits the mood of Lear’s Nonsense Songs (1871) and Laughable Lyrics and not a few phrases recall Lear’s much more memorable ones from “The Jumblies” (“Far and few, far and few”) and “The Dong with a Luminous Nose” (the “Bong tree”, “The Dong was happy and gay, / Till…), as well as “The Duck and the Kangaroo” (“over the land and over the sea”).

Shillaber’s Rhymes, With Reason and Without was only published in the USA, at least so it seems from the WorldCat record, but Lear also had American correspondents (see previous posts: 1, 2) and he might have obtained a copy. The book is now available online thanks to the Making of America repository and can be downloaded from Live Search Books.

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One Response to On the Coast of Coromandel

  1. Pingback: A Blog of Bosh - » A-Courting with the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò

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