In Edward Lear’s ‘The Table and the Chair’ the poet uses clear language and diction in order to tell a fun, image-rich story about two inanimate objects discovery their own abilities. The Table and the Chair are simple characters that learn throughout this poem how taking a chance and trying something new, walking, allowed them to experience something they never thought they could.
The poem is a fairly straightforward depiction of the Table’s desire to go outside, the Chair’s resistance, and then their discovery of their ability to walk. The two “toddle” on two of their four legs outside to “take the air”. Everyone celebrates this and the poem is quite light-hearted until the two get lost. This is quickly remedied by three small creatures who direct them back home.
‘The Table and the Chair’ by Edward Lear is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines, known as octaves. These octaves follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABBCCDD, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The meter is also quite consistent with each line containing somewhere between six and nine syllables.
The steadiness of this pattern is perfect for the content. This poem was meant for younger readers to either engage with themselves or to listen while another reads out loud.
Lear makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Table and the Chair’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, anthropomorphism, and caesura. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Beans” and “Bacon” in stanza five.
Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might precede an important turn or transition in the text. There are a few examples in this poem. For instance, line five of the second stanza which reads: “Said the Table, with a sigh”.
Anthropomorphism is a technique that’s used in almost all of Lear’s poetry. It occurs when a poet gives non-human things human abilities. Unlike personification, the object or creature doesn’t seem like they are doing something human, they are actually doing it. The examples in this poem are quite obvious with the table and chair as the best examples.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Said the Table to the Chair,
‘You can hardly be aware,
‘How I suffer from the heat,
‘And from chilblains on my feet!
‘If we took a little walk,
‘We might have a little talk!
‘Pray let us take the air!’
Said the Table to the Chair.
In the first stanza of ‘The Table and the Chair,’ the speaker begins by describing what the “Table” said to the “Chair”. The nouns are capitalized, allowing them to act as proper names and increase the anthropomorphism already at play within the text. Lear creates the characters and allows them to talk and act as human beings would. The Table complains to the chair about the heat and the sores on its “feet”. Even though, as the second stanza states, the two cannot walk, the Table suggests that they “take the air” and take a “little walk”. The line “Said the Table to the Chair” is repeated at the end of this stanza and at least once, in some form, in all the other stanzas.
Said the Chair unto the Table,
‘Now you know we are not able!
‘How foolishly you talk,
‘When you know we cannot walk!’
Said the Table, with a sigh,
‘It can do no harm to try,
‘I’ve as many legs as you,
‘Why can’t we walk on two?’
The Chair’s response follows in the second stanza. It reminds the Table that they are only pieces of furniture and can’t walk even if they wanted to. The Table isn’t deterred. It determines that it would “do no harm to try” to walk on the legs that they have. Two out of the four should be good enough. This creates the possibility of a very humorous image, a defining feature of Lear’s nonsense verse.
So they both went slowly down,
And walked about the town
With a cheerful bumpy sound,
As they toddled round and round.
And everybody cried,
As they hastened to their side,
‘See! the Table and the Chair
‘Have come out to take the air!’
The Table and the Chair attempt their walk and are quite successful. They are out to “take the air” they announcing and everyone “cried” out in excitement when they saw them. The two “toddled” on their legs but enjoyed it all the same. The two were certainly a spectacle. A reader should take note of the use of anaphora in these lines, as well as in other stanzas. It appears when the same word or words are used more than once at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “And” and “As” in this stanza.
But in going down an alley,
To a castle in a valley,
They completely lost their way,
And wandered all the day,
Till, to see them safely back,
They paid a Ducky-quack,
And a Beetle, and a Mouse,
Who took them to their house.
Suddenly, in the fourth stanza of ‘The Table and the Chair,’ things take a darker turn. They get “lost” as they wander around. In their excitement, they forgot how to get back to their home. Luckily for them, they aren’t the only anthropomorphized creations in this world. The duck, beetle, and mouse took them to “their house”. The darkness comes into the poem and exits just as quickly. The compound coined named “Ducky-quack” is a great example of a nonsense language that is often scattered throughout Lear’s poetry.
Then they whispered to each other,
‘O delightful little brother!
‘What a lovely walk we’ve taken!
‘Let us dine on Beans and Bacon!’
So the Ducky, and the leetle
Browny-Mousy and the Beetle
Dined, and danced upon their heads
Till they toddled to their beds.
The final stanza sees the two back in their home speaking to one another again. They’re excited but also tired out by the day. Their new friends, the “Browny-Mousy” and “Beetle” and “Ducky” stayed with them until it was time to go to bed. The word “toddled” appears again in the last line, suggesting that the two are not going to give up their new-found walking ability.