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Jenny Kissed Me by Leigh Hunt A Discussion of the Poem and the Poet

Jenny kissed me when we met,

Jumping from the chair she sat in;

Time, you thief, who love to get

Sweets into your list, put that in:

Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,

Say that health and wealth have missed me,

Say I'm growing old, but add

Jenny kissed me.

Leigh Hunt was a 19th century English essayist, critic, poet, and publisher. Hunt was not a renowned poet, though his "Jenny Kissed Me" has been enjoyed and often quoted for nearly two centuries. However, Hunt lived during an age of English Romanticism and was influential in the lives of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Keats. He was also contemporary with Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Charles Dickens. Such great company has given Leigh Hunt a distinguished status.

About "Jenny Kissed Me"

In 1835 Leigh Hunt and his large family moved to Chelsea in London and became neighbor to poet and author, Thomas Carlyle, at his suggestion. The two became close friends and Hunt's home was always open to his circle of friends, of which there were many.

Two stories exist. One story is that Leigh Hunt visited the Carlyles to deliver the news that he was going to publish one of Thomas Carlyle's poems. When the news was delivered to Carlyle's wife, Jane, she jumped up and kissed him.

The other story is that during one winter Hunt was sick with influenza and absent for so long that when he finally recovered and went to visit the Carlyles, Jane jumped up and kissed him as soon as he appeared at the door. Two days later one of the Hunt servants delivered a note, addressed, "From Mr. Hunt to Mrs. Carlyle." It contained the poem, "Jenny Kissed Me."

The second story is the one most often repeated.

Thankfully, Hunt was a wise editor, because in the original draft Jenny was Nelly and the word "jaundiced" was used instead of "weary" in the fifth line.

Reputedly, Leigh Hunt was a flirtatious man, often in trouble with his wife. Also reputedly, Jane Carlyle was a bit sour and better known for her acid tongue than for impulsive affection.

The poem, "Jenny Kissed Me" has been described variously as whimsical, charming, simple, and unaffected. Many readers encounter it for the first time during their school-age years and remember it all their lives. Numerous girls have been named "Jenny" as a result of the fond memory of the poem.

The first striking structural feature of "Jenny Kissed Me" is the trochaic meter. This is characterized by a foot that contains an accented syllable followed by an unaccented one. This meter is not commonly used in formal English poetry because it can sound singsong.

The trochaic meter is more common in children's nursery rhymes where a singsong rhythm is welcome. Think of "Twinkle, twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are."

The singsong effect is offset by the abab rhyme scheme in the poem, as opposed to an aabb rhyme scheme. The former rhyme scheme produces a four line verse as the basic unit of the poem, as in "Jenny Kissed Me." The latter rhyme scheme produces two line couplets which enhance the singsong effect, as in children's nursery rhymes.

Trochaic meter can also sound solemn or heavy due to the fact that the trochaic foot has a falling pattern (stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable). However, "Jenny Kissed Me" is a lighthearted poem and is supported by the use of feminine rhymes.

Lines that end with a stressed syllable are said to be masculine and lines that end with an unstressed syllable are said to be feminine. In "Jenny Kissed Me" lines 1, 3, 5, and 7 are masculine, but that rhyme pattern is not carried throughout the poem. Lines 2, 4, 6, and 8 are feminine, helping to offset the masculine rhymes and helping to make the poem feel lighter and brighter.

The insightful ending to "Jenny Kissed Me" invariably brings a smile to the reader's face.

About Leigh Hunt

James Henry Leigh Hunt was born in England in 1784 and died in 1859. Many English poets and writers were contemporaries of Leigh Hunt, including Keats, Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Dickens, Carlyle, Jeremy Bentham, and Charles Darwin.

During Hunt's lifetime England engaged in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 with America, and the 23 year period of the Napoleonic Wars with France. During Hunt's lifetime the French Revolution occurred and Napoleon became Emperor of France. Later, steam engines created an industrial revolution, and Darwin sailed to the Galapagos Islands and reported his findings. During a three year period Hunt's friends and supporters, Keats, Shelley, and Byron all died at young ages.

Leigh Hunt was born into a poor family near London in 1784 and attended school in London at Christ's Hospital, a school founded 240 years earlier for the education of poor children. Following his schooling, Hunt took a job as a clerk in the war office.

In 1805 Hunt partnered with his older brother, John, a printer, to establish a newspaper called The News. Three years later the brothers abandoned the newspaper and created a political weekly that established their liberal reputation called the Examiner. Among other topics, the Examiner called for many reforms in Parliament, criticized King George III, and called for the abolition of slavery.

The power of journalism came of age during this period of English history with the publishing of numerous critical newspapers which collectively became known as the "radical press." Consequently, the government became very busy, though mostly unsuccessfully, prosecuting the "radical press" for seditious libel.

In 1812 the Hunts wrote an article in the Examiner that called the Prince Regent, the future King George IV, "a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps." As a result, John and Leigh Hunt were convicted by a jury of libel and sentenced to two years in prison.

Though he continued to write for the Examiner while in prison, Leigh Hunt's separation from his family convinced him to turn away from political writing and to focus on literary writing.