‘The Osseous ’Orse’ (p. 154), ‘Come, Break the News to Me, Sweet Horse!’ (pp. 200–1)), and a menagerie of other animals. These thematic threads bind the nonsense verse together much as references to Jubjub birds and the Chankly Bore bind together the nonsense verse of Carroll and Lear. What makes Peake’s verse distinctive, however, is his tendency to return to the same nonsense poem or sequence of lines over many years, pursuing the imaginative possibilities it throws out in different directions each time he revisits it. For this reason we found ourselves, in this edition, printing rival versions of a number of poems because there seemed no reason to give one version precedence over another. ‘Simple, Seldom and Sad’ (p. 47) and ‘Sensitive, Seldom and Sad’ (p. 106) were clearly regarded by Peake as different poems, since he printed the latter in Rhymes Without Reason (1944) and the former two years later in Titus Groan (1946), despite having (apparently) written it first. ‘Deliria’ (pp. 63–4) is a different poem from ‘The Camel’ (p. 96); both versions of ‘How Good It Is to Be Alone’ (pp. 71–3) and of ‘The Sunlight Lies upon the Fields’ / ‘The Sunlight Falls Upon the Grass’ (pp. 64 and 80) have something distinctive to recommend them; and ‘I Must Begin to Comprehend’ (p. 122) and ‘The Threads Remain’ (p. 123) has each its own atmosphere, despite the number of lines they have in common. The lines ‘Half tragical, half magical, / And half an hour, or two’ occur in both of the latter poems as well as in ‘What a Day It’s Been!’ (p. 90), which Peake published in Rhymes without Reason three years or so before inscribing ‘The Threads Remain’ in his 1947 notebook. Each pair of poems or duplicated lines, whether placed side by side in this edition or separated by several pages, gives us the pleasure of noting the different sorts of ‘nowhere’ to which nonsense can lead us from the same starting point – or how it can lead us to the same ‘nowhere’ from different points of origin. The journeys of nonsense extend over time as well as space, and are thus interwoven with the personal history of writers and readers as inseparably as the poems in this book are interwoven with the calamitous events of the Second World War and its aftermath.
Unlike the serious poems, Peake’s nonsense verse makes no reference to contemporary historical events – with the notable exception of the fragment ‘Thank God for a Tadpole’ (p. 42), which is carefully dated 28 August 1939 (and is not exactly nonsense). It could be said, though, that this very rejection of its times by the nonsense verse is a kind of engagement with them. Many of the poems here concern themselves with resistance to entrapment: