The oldest nonsense texts in English are traditional nursery rhymes. The House that Jack Built circles round and round, adding an additional layer of absurdity with each repetition and straining the memory of the reader.
The "Song of Sixpence" reminds us that these rhymes also have tunes that were handed down, as well as traditional actions, like grabbing the nose of the listening toddler to imitate the blackbird at the end of the verse.
The nineteenth century saw new nonsense texts as well. Among the most delightful was The Butterfly’s Ball, an early example of a book without educational or moral purpose, published just for fun.
The two great nonsense poets of the century were Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Lear concentrated on the limerick form, although excluding the vulgarity which is now its hallmark. He was also an artist and illustrated his Book of Nonsense himself.
Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, includes the poem “Jabberwocky”, the meaning of which has never been satisfactorily explained, but which gave us useful words, like brillig, frabjous, and vorpal, with which to perplex our friends.