Friday, October 19, 2007

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky appeared in the novel Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, his follow-up to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The poem is proof of a couple of things: 1) a poem doesn't have to make sense to be enjoyable; and 2) they had mind-altering drugs in Victorian England. After the poem I've included an excerpt from Through the Looking Glass in which the Humpty Dumpty(!) explains parts of the poem to Alice. It gives you a sense of Carroll's whimsical reasoning.


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

From Through the Looking Glass:

'You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir' said Alice. 'Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called "Jabberwocky"?'

'Let's hear it,' said Humpty Dumpty. 'I can explain all the poems that ever were invented just yet.'

Alice remarked thoughtfully: 'and what are "toves"?'

'Well, "toves" are something like badgers - they're something like lizards - and they're something like corkscrews.'

'They must be very curious-looking creatures.'

'They are that,' said Humpty Dumpty: 'also they make their nests under sundials - also they live on cheese.'

Lewis Carroll was born is Cheshire (like the cat), England in 1832. He excelled at writing, mathematics, and photography. One of his favorote photography subjects was a girl named Alice Lidell, daughter of the Dean at Christ's Curch College, Oxford. She was the basis for Alice in Carroll's children's novels Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Excerpts From Song of Myself by Walt Whitman

These excerpts from Whitman's Song of Myself give you a sense of his rolling, relentless style. Whitman broke wildly from Western poetry's formal tradition (exemplified by the Dylan Thomas poem last week), choosing instead to write with no set meter or rhyme scheme--what we now call "free verse"--long before free verse became popular. Song of Myself, is, in part, about bucking convention and breaking boundaries: the poem ecstatically dissolves the borders between Whitman's body and the world and the borders between bodies. It is ambitious, sensual and unabashedly in love with nature. Written more than 150 years ago, its call to celebrate ourselves still resonates.

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the
distillation, it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,

I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised
and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
The smoke of my own breath,
Echoes, ripples, buzz'd whispers, love-root, silk-thread,
crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the
passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and
dark-color'd sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belch'd words of my voice loos'd to the
eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the
fields and hill-sides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising
from bed and meeting the sun.

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd
the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) grew up in Brooklyn and Long Island. While a student of the classics, his style was perhaps most influenced by cadences in the Bible. His work was unique for its time and “free,” contrasting starkly with the rhyme and metrical regularity of most poetry of the period.

If you're interested in reading more of the poem, or learning more about Whitman, take a look at The Whitman Archive here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night by Dylan Thomas

You've probably read this classic Dylan Thomas poem before. It's written in a French form called the Villanelle, and a lot of its structure--the meter (iambic pentameter), the rhyme scheme, the stanza lengths, the repetition of the first and third line--is predetermined. The Villanelle is a good choice when a poet wants to keep pushing a certain sentiment, or, say, convey an obsession. In this case, Thomas uses the form to energize a son's pleas to his father, quickly infusing a high level of emotion. The speaker wants his father to fight for life while he still lives, and the poem seems to fight as well.

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas was born in Wales in 1914. Fascinated by language, he excelled in English and reading, but neglected other subjects and dropped out of school at sixteen. His reading tours of the United States, which did much to popularize the poetry reading as new medium for the art, are famous and notorious, for Thomas was the archetypal Romantic poet of the popular American imagination: he was flamboyantly theatrical, a heavy drinker, engaged in roaring disputes in public, and read his work aloud with tremendous depth of feeling. He became a legendary figure, both for his work and the boisterousness of his life.