Sensitive, Seldom and Sad by Mervyn Peake

Continuing his English seaside/contemplation of brief mortality in a godless universe theme, Brit introduces a children’s nonsense poem with even more existential melancholy than Arnold’s Dover Beach

Mervyn Peake’s book Rhymes Without Reason is the cultural item that has influenced me more than any other. I must have been about six or seven when I received a copy. Peake’s minimal, matter-of-fact nonsense poems, illustrated lavishly with whales on mantelpieces and weeping walruses, haunt me still… But the best poem is the last one, a work of infinite melancholy. Its accompanying painting – a proper heartbreaker – is above.

Sensitive, Seldom and Sad by Mervyn Peake

Sensitive, Seldom and Sad are we,
As we wend our way to the sneezing sea,
With our hampers full of thistles and fronds
To plant round the edge of the dab-fish ponds;
Oh, so Sensitive, Seldom and Sad
Oh, so Seldom and Sad.

In the shambling shades of the shelving shore,
We will sing us a song of the Long Before,
And light a red fire and warm our paws
For it’s chilly, it is, on the Desolate shores,
For those who are Sensitive, Seldom and Sad,
For those who are Seldom and Sad.

Sensitive, Seldom and Sad we are,
As we wander along through Lands Afar,
To the sneezing sea, where the sea-weeds be,
And the dab-fish ponds that are waiting for we
Who are, Oh, so Sensitive, Seldom and Sad,
Oh, so Seldom and Sad.

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11 thoughts on “Sensitive, Seldom and Sad by Mervyn Peake

  1. Worm
    January 16, 2012 at 15:10

    I was bamboozled by the inclusion of ‘seldom’ so had a bit of a rummage around online – apparently (although not sure if Peake means this or not) seldom comes from the old english ‘seldan’ meaning strange or rare….

    January 16, 2012 at 18:38

    Mervyn Peake’s book Rhymes Without Reason is the cultural item that has influenced me more than any other.

    That is easy to believe, and explains why you wrecked your daughter’s exciting day at the beach with all those depressing musings about a godless universe. If you were more responsible and taught her the classics instead, she could have been exposed to one of the great existential toddler-mysteries and gone on joyfully to see the glorious hand of a loving god in its sweeping expanse. I’ll bet that’s what Mum would have done.

    January 16, 2012 at 19:20

    Wending is one of those human activities that croons melancholy, most evenings in summer when back at the ranch we watch as the sheep wend across the hill, from left to right, in a line, wend, wend, wend. Pathfinder sheep stops, admires the setting sun, following sheep stop, patiently wait and then, of a-wending again, where, one asks oneself are these about to be curry fillings going, wending away, hither and yon?
    Now I know, it’s the beach, for a spot of beach wending, they are beach wendors.

    • Worm
      January 16, 2012 at 19:34

      they wend, so that their wool may be weft and woof for the warp

    Steve Buckley
    January 17, 2012 at 12:44

    Morrissey did a cover version of this – set to the tune from ‘Telegram Sam’ by T Rex – at Preston Guild Hall in 1996.

      January 17, 2012 at 13:10

      Now that I did not know. But it figures… thanks Steve!

    January 17, 2012 at 13:23

    You might like to note that the first edition of Rhymes without Reason is reproduced complete (and in colour) in Complete Nonsense by Peake (Carcanet, July 2011). It’s the first time that all the poems and all the illustrations have been reprinted together since 1944!

  6. Brit
    January 17, 2012 at 13:49

    Thanks Peter.

    Yes I actually emailed the publisher in hopes of obtaining a review copy for The Dabbler, but it may have disappeared into the spam filter.

    If they’re reading this and would like to do something with us, email

  7. Gaw
    January 17, 2012 at 17:22

    Who did the illustration? That alone must be enough to make an indelible impression on a seven year old!

      January 17, 2012 at 19:40

      Why, Peake himself. All his own stunts. He’s as much an illustrator and artist as a writer – some would say more so. Have a look out for his illustrated Hunting of the Snark.

    Doc Sausage
    January 18, 2012 at 23:57

    Intrigued by the Morrisey connection because as I read it I was reminded of Everyday Is Like Sunday even though it’s nothing like it – strange
    Excellent poem though

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