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I've been reading When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne and I wonder how can I interpret the following parts of his poem "The Four Friends". I marked in bold those parts that I don't know how to interpret.

Ernest was an elephant, a great big fellow,
Leonard was a lion with a six foot tail,
George was a goat, and his beard was yellow,
And James was a very small snail.

Leonard had a stall, and a great big strong one,
Earnest had a manger, and its walls were thick,
George found a pen, but I think it was the wrong one (1),
And James sat down on a brick.

Earnest started trumpeting, and cracked his manger,
Leonard started roaring, and shivered his stall,
James gave a huffle of a snail in danger (2)
And nobody heard him at all.

Earnest started trumpeting and raised such a rumpus,
Leonard started roaring and trying to kick,
James went on a journey with the goat's new compass (3)
And he reached the end of his brick.

Ernest was an elephant and very well-intentioned,
Leonard was a lion with a brave new tail (4),
George was a goat, as I think I have mentioned,
But James was only a snail.

  1. What does Mr. A.A.Milne mean here by saying it was the wrong pen?

  2. What does this whole sentence mean?

  3. What is meant by the goat's new compass here and what is the connection with James the snail?

  4. What happened to his old six foot tail introduced in the beginning?

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    Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer.
    – Community Bot
    Mar 19 at 7:35
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    It's not an ink pen, it's an animal pen. That is, something one would keep animals in, like a stall or a manger.
    – Peter Shor
    Mar 19 at 10:17
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    It's fine to ask multiple questions about a short passage like this, especially when the answers are likely to share some of the analysis, such as identifying the speaker as a child, and recognizing the "friends" as the speaker's toys. There's no need to vote to close. Mar 19 at 11:13

1 Answer 1

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I think you probably shouldn't try to read too much into what was intended as a nonsense poem for children. If read aloud it reveals some puns and homophones that you might not notice.

However:

  1. "Pen" is either a cage or a writing implement. As every 4 year old knew, goats were notorious for eating anything, so perhaps the implication is that George had eaten a writing implement.

  2. Presumably "huffle" is the noise a snail makes. It certainly sounds like the quiet sort of noise that you probably couldn't hear.

  3. "Goat and Compasses" is an old inn name. Whether this is the authentic origin or not, it was widely believed to be a corruption of "God encompasses".

  4. Does the lion have a "tail" or a "tale"? The listener probably wouldn't know the words were spelt differently.

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