On Edward Lear’s “The Scroobious Pip”


Our Correspondents

The piece below was originally published on February 8, 2014, on Anthony Opal’s old website, the Weekly (since kaput). In reprinting it, we have only changed the very end of the “Afterword,” so that now you can simply click on a hyperlink to access additional (and extremely precious) information.

A detail of Nancy Ekholm Burkert’s illustration for Edward Lear’s “The Scroobious Pip.”

In early 1872, Edward Lear left a poem unfinished. It was very nearly complete: all it lacked of its intended five rhyming subsections were two lines and two words (not at the end). Lear left blanks in the manuscript, and it’s clear he intended to supply the missing bits at some later time. No one knows why he never did so.

The piece is called “The Scroobious Pip,” and it is good. It’s right up there with the best material Lear included in Laughable Lyrics, which came out roughly five years later (December 1876). But, because he never finished it, it remained unpublished during his lifetime. Indeed, the piece first saw the light of day in 1935, in the back of what was essentially a small collectors’ edition—950 copies, each one numbered. (My copy is #237.)

In 1954, Harvard University Press published a thin (sixty-four-page) book called Teapots and Quails, a very valuable document for Lear enthusiasts insofar as it made many previously uncollected or very hard-to-get pieces available—including ten limericks with accompanying illustrations. “The Scroobious Pip” appears on pages 60 through 62. The lacunæ in the manuscript are rendered either as blanks or as strings of dots.

In 1968, the American poet Ogden Nash was asked to complete “The Scroobious Pip,” so that it could be published, with elaborate illustrations, as a children’s book. He agreed. In September 1968, the book came out as an “elephant” folio, the poem spread out over eighteen pages, roughly half of which contain text (in a very large font). Nash’s insertions are enclosed in square brackets.

I, too, came out in September 1968 (eight pounds, six ounces), so I felt an instantaneous affinity with this book, which I had never heard of until I ran across an entry for it in Ogden Nash: A Descriptive Bibliography (1990). I’m a big fan of both Nash and Lear. I was excited to see what a “collaboration” between the two of them might look like.

Long story short, I didn’t care for the Nash insertions. In my judgment, they were insufficiently Lear-like. Granted, Nash had neatly solved at least one key problem … but I don’t want to get into that just now.

I set out to finish “The Scroobious Pip” in a manner more to my liking. I felt qualified to make the attempt, because I had spent all of 2013 obsessing over Lear, memorizing most of his limericks, and so on. So I gave it my best shot. I reworked my material many times; I consulted with Lear’s ghost. When I was satisfied I had done the best I could, I started to play a little game. I would show friends the “Madrid version,” stripping away any square-bracket apparatus and asking them to try to sniff out my two lines and two words.

I am sorry to report my friends were very often able to spot the Madrid bits without much trouble. My friends were encouraging, they all said they liked my lines, but I was forced to admit I had lost any right to call what I had produced a “seamless” performance.

Herewith, I shall allow the reader to have a look for herself. I’m still clinging to the hope that my friends benefited (if that’s the word) from familiarity with my habitual poetic vocabulary. It still seems possible that a reader without that advantage will find my “Scroobious Pip” authentically Lear-like, top to bottom. I want very badly for this to be true, yet I am reconciled to the sad possibility that “The Scroobious Pip” remains unfinished despite everything.

At any rate, it’s pleasant to have an excuse to introduce readers to this relatively little-known poem. I want to stress again: the following is ninety-seven percent Lear. Your job is to identify the three percent Madrid.

“The Scroobious Pip”


The Scroobious Pip went out one day
When the grass was green and the sky was gray.
Then all the beasts in the world came round,
When the Scroobious Pip sat down on the ground.
The Cat and the Dog and the Kangaroo,
The Sheep and the Cow and the Guinea Pig too,—
The Wolf he howled, the Horse he neighed,
The little Pig squeaked and the Donkey brayed,
And when the Lion began to roar
There never was heard such a noise before,
And every beast he stood on the tip
Of his toes to look at the Scroobious Pip.

At last they said to the Fox, By far
You’re the wisest beast—you know you are!
Go close to the Scroobious Pip and say:
“Tell us all about yourself, we pray!
For as yet we can’t make out in the least
If you’re Fish or Insect, or Bird or Beast!”

The Scroobious Pip looked vaguely round
And sang these words with a rumbling sound:
“Chippetty Flip! Flippetty Chip!
My only name is the Scroobious Pip.”


The Scroobious Pip from the top of a tree
Saw the distant Jellybolee,—
And all the birds in the world came there,
Flying in crowds all through the air.

The Vulture and Eagle, the Cock and the Hen,
The Ostrich, the Turkey, the Snipe and the Wren,—
The Parrot chattered, the Blackbird sung,
And the Owl looked wise but held his tongue,
And when the Peacock began to scream,
The hullabaloo was quite extreme,
And every bird he fluttered the tip
Of his wing as he stared at the Scroobious Pip.

At last they said to the Owl, By far
You’re the wisest Bird—you know you are!
Fly close to the Scroobious Pip and say:
“Explain all about yourself, we pray!—
For as yet we’ve neither seen nor heard
If you’re Fish or Insect, Beast or Bird!”

The Scroobious Pip looked gaily round
And sang these words with a chirpy sound:
“Chippetty Flip! Flippetty Chip!
My only name is the Scroobious Pip.”


The Scroobious Pip went into the sea
By the beautiful shore of the Jellybolee.
All the Fish in the world swam round
With a splashy, squashy, spluttery sound.
The Sprat, the Herring, the Turbot too,
The Shark, the Sole, the Mackerel blue,—
The Flounder sputtered, the Cuttlefish huffed,
The lovable fluffable Pufferfish puffed. 
And when the Whale began to spout
They gave a redoubling, bubbling shout.
And every Fish he shook the tip
Of his tail as he gazed on the Scroobious Pip.

At last they said to the Whale, By far
You’re the biggest Fish—you know you are!
Swim close to the Scroobious Pip and say,
“Tell us all about yourself, we pray!—
For to know from yourself is our only wish—
Are you Beast or Insect, Bird or Fish?”

The Scroobious Pip looked softly round
And sang these words with a liquid sound:
“Pliffetty Flip! Pliffetty Flip!
My only name is the Scroobious Pip.”


The Scroobious Pip sat under a tree
By the silent shores of the Jellybolee.
All the Insects in all the world
About the Scroobious Pip entwirled.
Cicadas and beetles with purple eyes,
Gnats and buzztilential Flies,
Grasshoppers, Butterflies, Spiders too,
Wasps and Bees and Dragonflies blue,—
And when the gnats began to hum
The firmament bounced like a dismal drum.
And every Insect curled the tip
Of his snout, as he looked at the Scroobious Pip.

At last they said to the Ant, By far
You’re the wisest Insect—you know you are!
Creep close to the Scroobious Pip and say:
“Tell us all about yourself, we pray!—
For we can’t find out, and we can’t tell why
If you’re Beast or Fish, or a Bird or a Fly.”

The Scroobious Pip turned quickly round
And sang these words with a whistly sound:
“Wizzibby Wip! Wizzibby Wip!
My only name is the Scroobious Pip.”


Then all the Beasts that walk on the ground
Danced in a circle, round and round,
And all the Birds that fly in the air
Flew round and round in a circle there,
And all the Fish in the Jellybolee
Swam in a circle about the sea,
And all the Insects that creep or go
Buzzed in a circle to and fro.
And they roared and sang and whistled and cried,
Till the noise was heard from side to side:
“Chippetty Tip! Chippetty Tip!
Its only name is the Scroobious Pip!”


The above poem contains exactly one hundred lines. Two are supplied entirely by me (in one case stealing Ogden Nash’s essential solution idea, and in the other case going my own way and even reworking the second half of the verse before mine in order to accommodate my interference). In two other instances, I supply a single word (in one case slightly altering the line’s syntax, and in one case not). Accidentals have been adjusted throughout.

Click here for a pdf of the five versions of the poem known to me—the last of which is my own, with square brackets around the parts I made up.


Anthony Madrid lives in Victoria, Texas. His second book is Try Never (Canarium Books, 2017). He is a correspondent for the Daily.