‘The Duck and the Kangaroo’ is a wonderful example of Lear’s best nonsense of nonce poetry. It was first published in 1870 in the collection Nonsense Songs. In this poem, the poet writes with a young audience in mind. The themes he explores are friendship, compromise, and adventure/travel.
Explore the Duck and the Kangaroo
Summary of The Duck and the Kangaroo
Leer uses several different literary devices in this poem to depict an amusing relationship between two very different creatures. Throughout the poem, the duck praises the kangaroo for his ability to hop in trouble easily. The ducks jealous of his life and is seeking out similar adventures. By the end of the poem, the duck has convinced the kangaroo that it’s a good idea for him to ride on his back and travel the world with him. The story ends happily with the two joyously spending time together.
Structure of The Duck and the Kangaroo
‘The Duck and the Kangaroo’ by Edward Lear is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines, known as octaves. Each of these octaves, in the original version of the poem, was tabled with a Roman numeral.
Lear structured the lines of ‘The Duck and the Kangaroo’ with a rhyme scheme of ABABCCDD, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza but always repeating the final “DD” rhyme. As is common in his poetry, Lear used a form of meter known as anapaestic trimeter. It is not consistently used throughout the poem, but the majority of the lines are made up of three sets of three syllables. The first two syllables in the set are unstressed and the final is stressed.
Literary Devices in The Duck and the Kangaroo
Lear makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Duck and the Kangaroo’. These include but are not limited to anthropomorphism, alliteration, and enjambment. The first of these is the most prominent. It appears when a writer describes an animal as having human features, not just seeming as though they do. The creatures in Lear’s poems can often talk, act, and think just like human beings. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For instance, “Good gracious” in line two of the first stanza and “requires” and “reflection” in line two of the third stanza.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the fourth stanza.
Analysis of The Duck and the Kangaroo
Stanzas One and Two
Said the Duck to the Kangaroo,
‘Good gracious! how you hop!
Over the fields and the water too,
As if you never would stop!
My life is a bore in this nasty pond,
And I long to go out in the world beyond!
I wish I could hop like you!’
Said the Duck to the Kangaroo.
‘Please give me a ride on your back!’
Said the Duck to the Kangaroo.
‘I would sit quite still, and say nothing but “Quack,”
The whole of the long day through!
And we’d go to the Dee, and the Jelly Bo Lee,
Over the land, and over the sea;—
Please take me a ride! O do!’
Said the Duck to the Kangaroo.
In the first stanza of ‘The Duck and the Kangaroo’, the speaker begins by relaying the words of one of his anthropomorphized characters, the duck. He speaks to another character, the kangaroo, with excitement. Lear uses exclamation points, short phrases, end-stopped lines, and in some cases enjambment in his dialogue.
The duck praises the kangaroo for its ability to hop without stopping. He’s jealous of the kangaroo’s ability to get around and wishes that he could go out into the world with him. The phrase “Said the duck to the kangaroo” is repeated at the end of this first stanza. It is also repeated at the end of stanzas two and five. Additionally, almost every stanza, except for the second stanza begins with the phrase “Said to” or “Said the”.
In the second stanza of this upbeat and humorous poem, the duck continues to speak to the kangaroo asking that it can receive a ride on the kangaroos back. The duck’s dialogue contains examples of alliteration and sibilance as he tells the kangaroo how he would act and what he would and would not do. There is a good example of nonsense language in the fourth line of this stanza when the duck describes the places that kangaroo can take him.
Stanzas Three and Four
Said the Kangaroo to the Duck,
‘This requires some little reflection;
Perhaps on the whole it might bring me luck,
And there seems but one objection,
Which is, if you’ll let me speak so bold,
Your feet are unpleasantly wet and cold,
And would probably give me the roo-
Matiz!’ said the Kangaroo.
Said the Duck, ‘As I sate on the rocks,
I have thought over that completely,
And I bought four pairs of worsted socks
Which fit my web-feet neatly.
And to keep out the cold I’ve bought a cloak,
And every day a cigar I’ll smoke,
All to follow my own dear true
Love of a Kangaroo!’
It is not until the third stanza of ‘The Duck and the Kangaroo’ that the kangaroo finally gets a word in. The stanza begins with the phrase “Said the kangaroo to the duck“ as did the first. The kangaroo is not necessarily excited about the duck’s proposal. His language is more complicated, the sentences are longer, and the words bigger. There is a dynamic that’s immediately crafted between the two. The kangaroo appears to be an older, more reticent figure and the ducks a younger one. He considers the possibility that the duck might bring him good luck but is bothered by the fact that the duck’s feet are “unpleasantly wet and cold”.
The duck seems to have calmed somewhat by the fourth stanza and already has a response to the kangaroo. He tells his anthropomorphized companion that he bought “worsted socks” that’ll fit his feet. He’s also purchased a coat and a cigar that he’s going to smoke every day. These things should help him get on the kangaroo’s good side and experience the world as he does.
Said the Kangaroo, ‘I’m ready!
All in the moonlight pale;
But to balance me well, dear Duck, sit steady!
And quite at the end of my tail!’
So away they went with a hop and a bound,
And they hopped the whole world three times round;
And who so happy,—O who,
As the Duck and the Kangaroo?
In the final stanza of ‘The Duck and the Kangaroo’, the kangaroo ascents to the duck’s proposal and allows the duck to climb on and balance on the end of his tail. The speaker describes the joys of their friendship, the travels they went on, and uses a rhetorical question to suggest that no one in the world is or was as happy as these two friends.