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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail
Age Range: 9-11
‘I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail’ is a classic British poem from the 17th century. Known as ‘trick verse’ because it seems not to make any sense when it is read for the first time but when the sentences are broken up with punctuation it starts to become logical.
The trick is the two ways in which it can be understood. Read a line at a time, or read from the middle of one line to the middle of the next. Depending on how each line is read it is either fantastical or it makes perfect sense.
“I saw a peacock with a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet drop down hail
I saw a cloud with ivy circled around …”
“I saw a peacock. With a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet. Drop down hail
I saw a cloud. With ivy circled around …”
The poem poses a question for the reader: Is the difference between fantasy and reality largely grammatical or are these inversions (change in normal word order) the very essence of poetry? At the simplest level, it is a lesson on grammar and punctuation and young readers will enjoy overturning the logic and the ‘trick’ with which meaning can be made to return.
The wordplay combines and contrasts with the art from Indian artist Ramsingh Urveti. He uses the Gond style of tribal art and the impressive black and white swirling illustrations together with the die-cuts help to focus attention on specific little circles that encase some of the words.
This is an inspired version of the classic poem cleverly using art and design as a way of exploring language. Working together they brilliantly captures the shifting ways in which poetry creates meaning.