Jabberwock for President. Joking, of Course

Jabberwock and Friends, Lewis Carroll, illus. Sir John Tenniel, ed. 1977

The candidates are debating; each wants to be president, but the real candidate, call him the Jabberwock, is not present.

First, the candidates opening statements:

The Governor: ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.’

The Senator: ‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun The frumious Bandersnatch!’

The Speaker (seeing the Jabberwock offstage): ‘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.’

Enter the Jabberwok, interrupting the debate. ‘And as in uffish thought he stood, the Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, And burbled as it came!’

The Speaker attacks the Jabberwock: ‘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.’

The Representative: ‘And has thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ He chortled in his joy.

CNN Commentary: ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.’

Alice, who has been listening to the debate on TV, has this to say: ‘It seems very pretty, but it’s RATHER hard to understand!’

Charles Dodson, writing under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, wrote the famous nonsense poem Jabberwocky that I have quoted above. The poem was published in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, which is sequel to Alice in Wonderland.

Through the Looking Glass is a darker fantasy than Alice in Wonderland, perhaps because Dodson was undergoing a period of personal difficulty.

I was introduced to the poem Jaberwocky while in graduate school in Montana. I had not read Lewis Carroll in high school, and knew nothing of the Jaberwocky. A friend from New York was fond of quoting the poem out loud. I thought she had created the poem herself. Finally, one day I asked her for a translation. She later introduced me to the “Alice” books for which I am grateful.

Well, Alice needed help translating the words of the Jaberwocky. She turned to Humpty Dumpty, who was an expert on interpreting poems.

Don’t stand there chattering to yourself like that,’ Humpty
Dumpty said, looking at her for the first time, ‘but tell me your name and your business.’
‘My NAME is Alice, but—’
‘It’s a stupid enough name!’ Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. ‘What does it mean?’

‘MUST a name mean something?’ Alice asked doubtfully.

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 were ever invented—and a good many that haven’t been invented just yet.’

This sounded very hopeful, so Alice repeated the first verse:

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

‘That’s enough to begin with,’ Humpty Dumpty interrupted: ‘there are plenty of hard words there. “BRILLIG” means four o’clock in the afternoon—the time when you begin BROILING things for dinner.’

‘That’ll do very well,’ said Alice: and “SLITHY”?’
‘Well, “SLITHY” means “lithe and slimy.” “Lithe” is the same as
“active.” You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.’

‘I see it now,’ Alice remarked thoughtfully: ‘and what are “TOVES”?’

Toves, gyre and gimble. Illustration by Tenniel, 1871

And Humpty Dumpty replies:

‘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 sun-dials—also they live on cheese.’

‘And what’s the “GYRE” and to “GIMBLE”?’

‘To “GYRE” is to go round and round like a gyroscope. To
“GIMBLE” is to make holes like a gimlet.

‘And what does “OUTGRABE” mean?’
‘Well, “OUTGRABING” is something between bellowing and
whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle: however, you’ll
hear it done, maybe—down in the wood yonder—and when you’ve once heard it you’ll be QUITE content.

Who’s been repeating all that hard stuff to you?’
‘I read it in a book,’ said Alice.

The country is slowly coming out of a period of difficulty; I hope that the political debates take a turn for the better (with fewer personal attacks and more discussion of issues).

Politicians, please, more poetry and less outgrabing!

Carto
Week 3-2012: Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll (1871).
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About carto

Retired software engineer who grew up in Montana, went to Montana State College in Bozeman, and moved to California to work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Carto's Library is about books I've read and liked; Carto's Logbook is about photography, travel and adventure. Mt. Maurice Times is tall tales mostly biographical.
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