‘Jumbo Jet’ by Spike Milligan is a four stanza poem that is divided into three sets of four lines, or quatrains, and one final couplet. The lines follow a very consistent rhyme scheme. It conforms to a pattern of AABB CCDD EEFF GG. The content of ‘Jumbo Jet’ is quite whimsical, depicting the plight of a lost elephant trying to return to Africa. The amusing plotline is made all the more interesting with the addition of this simple rhyme scheme.
It is also usual, within poems written with a younger audience in mind, for the poet to choose a fairly straightforward pattern of rhyme. This choice is made with the intention of making the text fun to read and pleasing to hear read out loud.
Summary of Jumbo Jet
In the first lines of this piece, the speaker begins by telling the reader how he went outside one day and found an elephant in his garden. He was shocked to see him there and told him immediately that he shouldn’t be there. The elephant was confused but eventually realized how lost he is. In the next lines, the elephant asks for the speaker’s help getting back to Africa and the plains on which he should be roaming.
The poem concludes with the speaker describing how the elephant got lost after getting to the Thames Embankment. He was then caught by police, tied up outside to a lamppost, and then become lost once more when he wandered off during the early morning hours. In the final couplet the speaker, in an upbeat tone, assures the reader that if they see an elephant on a “Jumbo Jet” plane that he is simply trying to get home to Africa.
You can read the full poem here.
Milligan uses a number of poetic techniques within ‘Jumbo Jet.’ One of the most prominent of these is repetition. This can be seen most obviously in the first stanza with the phrase “I said” used twice, and “I saw” once.
A reader should also take note of the use of dialogue in ‘Jumbo Jet.’ These moments are some of the most poignant. They show two distinct voices and tones. There is the main speaker, who is also the narrator of the text. This person shows concern, sympathy and a desire to help the second speaker, the elephant. The lost elephant’s tone is even clearer, he is confused, scared and in need of help.
It is through anthropomorphism, or the imbuing of a creature or object with human characteristics and actions, that one comes to sympathize or even empathize so deeply with the elephant. Most can relate to the feeling of being out of place, lost, or far from home.
Analysis of Jumbo Jet
I saw a little elephant standing in my garden,
He said ‘Ah, then I must be lost’ and then ‘Oh dear, oh dear’.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins with an amusing line that is meant to draw a reader into the poem. He states that he went outside and saw,
a little elephant standing in my garden,
This is meant to surprise and please the reader and one will not be disappointed as the rest of the poem is just as whimsical. The elephant, who is the secondary character in ‘Jumbo Jet,’ is highly anthropomorphized. This way the reader is able to connect with him and the complicated problem he has gotten himself into.
The speaker continues addressing the elephant. He tells him straight out, somewhat abruptly and perhaps rudely, that he doesn’t “belong in here.” The elephant doesn’t understand the question or is perhaps confused about his entire situation. He asks for clarification and the speaker explains that they are in England.
In the last line, the elephant realizes that something has gone terribly wrong. He has ended up somewhere new, somewhere he isn’t meant to be. It is clear through the repetition of “‘Oh dear, oh dear.”’
‘I should be back in Africa, on Saranghetti’s Plain’,
And over the Embankment, where he got lost, again.
In the next set of lines, the lost elephant’s tone grows more concerned, bordering on desperate. He tells the speaker that where he should really be is “‘back in Africa, on Saranghetti’s Plain.”’ The elephant continues on to ask the speaker if there is somewhere he can “catch a train.” This is supposed to be funny. The images the line creates in one’s mind are absurd and pleasing at the same time. Rather than getting on the train, the elephant ended up catching,
[…] the bus to Finchley and then to Mincing lane
And over the Embankment,
From these lines, it becomes clear that the elephant and the speaker are in London. He makes it all the way to “the Embankment” before he gets lost. There is a comma strategically placed between “lost” and “again” at the end of line four of the second stanza. This is meant to emphasize the elephant’s predisposition to wander off. Yet again he is lost.
The police they put him in a cell, but it was far too small,
The lampost and the wall were there, but the elephant was gone!
In the last quatrain of ‘Jumbo Jet’ the speaker is not physically present for any of the action. He is simply relaying what he knows about the situation. He tells the reader that eventually the police came upon the elephant and tried to “put him in a cell.” This didn’t work for obvious reasons— he’s much too big and the cell is “far too small.”
They decide the best course of action is to tie him to a lamppost outside. It was there that he spent the night. He wasn’t alone though, the policeman stayed with him but eventually also fell asleep. When the policeman woke up “the elephant was gone!” It was sometime around the “dawn” that the elephant wandered off again, somehow breaking away from the lamppost.
So if you see an elephant, in a Jumbo Jet,
You can be sure that Africa’s the place he’s trying to get!
In the last two lines of ‘Jumbo Jet’ there is an intentional cliffhanger. The reader and the speaker do not know if the elephant ever made it back to Africa. But the speaker wants everyone to know that if they,
[…] see an elephant, in a Jumbo Jet,
You can be sure that Africa’s the place he’s trying to get!
This is perhaps a request for any onlooker to help the poor elephant get where he is going, or maybe the speaker just wanted to share his story. This way no one will be shocked, like he was, to see an out of place elephant.