An Animated Studying of “The Jabberwocky,” Lewis Carroll’s Nonsense Poem That In some way Manages to Make Sense


“I can clarify all of the poems that ever had been in­ vented—and many who have not been invented simply but.” —Humpty Dumpty

“The Jabberwocky,” Lewis Carroll’s basic poem from By way of the Wanting Glass, and What Alice Discovered There—the second installment of essentially the most famously nonsensical journey in literary historical past—is “stuffed with seemingly nonsensical phrases that in some way handle to make sense,” says narrator Jack Cutmore-Scott within the animated studying above from TED-Ed Animation. That phrase, nonsense, is related to Carroll’s fantasy world greater than some other, however what does it imply for a narrative to be nonsense and be intelligible on the similar time?

Carroll, a mathematician by coaching, understood the elemental precept of nonsense, which “T.S. Eliot reminded us, shouldn’t be an absence of sense however a parody of it,” as J. Patrick Lewis writes at The New York Times. “A number of the portmanteau phrases Carroll invented—chortle, burble, frabjous and others—at the moment are totally vested members of the lexicon. And the verse’s construction is a mirror, as Alice found, of classical English poetry.” Carroll composed the primary 4 strains ten years earlier than By way of the Wanting Glass, as a parodic “Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry” to amuse his household.

It might assist, or not, to remember the fact that Carroll shouldn’t be solely mocking English poetic types and conventions, however a selected historic type of English that’s principally unrecognizable to trendy readers, and positively to Alice. However the poem’s syntax and construction are so acquainted that we will simply piece collectively a monster-slaying narrative wherein, as Alice remarks, “any individual killed one thing.”

The ever-humble Humpty Dumpty is glad to elucidate, as was Carroll in his unique composition, to which he attached a glossary similar to the egg’s definitions and gave “the literal English” of the primary stanza as:

“It was night, and the graceful lively badgers had been scratching and boring holes within the hill aspect; all sad had been the parrots, and the grave turtles squeaked out“.

There have been most likely solar dials on the highest of the hill, and the “borogoves” had been afraid that their nests could be undermined. The hill was most likely stuffed with the nests of “raths”, which ran out squeaking with concern on listening to the “toves” scratching outdoors. That is an obscure, however but deeply affecting, relic of historical Poetry.

Does this assist? It does clarify the temper Carroll is after, and he achieves it. The Jabberwocky is humorous and playful and all the remainder, however additionally it is deeply unsettling in its obscure mysteries and horrifying descriptions of its title character.

In John Tenniel’s well-known illustration of the beast, it seems as a scaly, leathery dragon with a face someplace between a deep-sea fish and an overgrown sewer rat. The animation by Sjaak Rood provides it a extra classically dragon-like look, within the crazed model of Ralph Steadman, whereas the Bandersnatch seems like one thing Paul Klee would have invented. The selection of inventive influences right here reveals Rood connecting deeply with the nonsense custom in trendy artwork, one which additionally turns acquainted types into nightmarish beings that fill our heads with concepts.

Associated Content material:

O Frabjous Day! Neil Gaiman Recites Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” from Memory

Behold Lewis Carroll’s Original Handwritten & Illustrated Manuscript for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1864)

Lewis Carroll’s Photographs of Alice Liddell, the Inspiration for Alice in Wonderland

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Illustrated by Salvador Dalí in 1969, Finally Gets Reissued

Josh Jones is a author and musician based mostly in Durham, NC. Comply with him at @jdmagness

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