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You are old, Father William -- Lewis Carroll

Guest poem submitted by Ramón Fallon:
(Poem #1544) You are old, Father William
 "You are old, father William," the young man said,
 "And your hair has become very white;
 And yet you incessantly stand on your head --
 Do you think, at your age, it is right?

 "In my youth," father William replied to his son,
 "I feared it might injure the brain;
 But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
 Why, I do it again and again."

 "You are old," said the youth, "as I mentioned before,
 And you have grown most uncommonly fat;
 Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door --
 Pray what is the reason for that?"

 "In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
 "I kept all my limbs very supple
 By the use of this ointment -- one shilling a box --
 Allow me to sell you a couple?"

 "You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak
 For anything tougher than suet;
 Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak --
 Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

 "In my youth," said his fater, "I took to the law,
 And argued each case with my wife;
 And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
 Has lasted the rest of my life."

 "You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
 That your eye was as steady as ever;
 Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose --
 What made you so awfully clever?"

 "I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
 Said his father. "Don't give yourself airs!
 Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
 Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs.
-- Lewis Carroll
Here's a poem by Lewis Carroll who is already well represented on your site
[1], but I think this one is incredibly good. First of all it is really
really catchy - in the musical sense even - it has the kind of lines that
you find yourself unconsciously repeating, like you might whistle a tune.
Also, it has plenty of fantasy in it, as one might expect from Carroll, but
its real crowning achievement, is, in fact, its reality.

Sure, as a poem, it entertains, it indulges, but behind it all it is dealing
with a fundamental issue. Youth's attitude to Age. I find it to be highly
accurate in this sense. Youth is the unrecoverable gift this life gives us,
and this apparently trivial poem frames the situation perfectly.

The youth is quite arrogant, and repeats himself each time with the
subversive aim of reminding Father William how old he is. He's also been
very observant about Father William's actions, which are indeed
awe-inspiring, but his surprise is always in relation to the age of Father
William. It is clear that the youth is more age-obsessed than the father.

If anything Father William is portrayed as quite a happy person, despite his
age, and there is the feeling the youth wants to dissolve that happiness
with his insistence. In the end, I think, the father loses his exuberance at
the unremitting reminders of his age, decides to dispatch the arrogant youth
forthwith  - as you might say.

It's so great to have such masterly crafted set of words, with both great
fun and profound meaning in them!

Ramón.

[1] [broken link] http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/index_poet_C.html#Carroll --
ed.

23 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Mallika Chellappa said...

Of course this poem is a parody - on the
humorless and didactic original by Robert Southey.
I'm putting the text below - but it does deserve
it's own entry! So does "The Inchcape Rock",
- about Sir Ralph the Rover and the Inchcape Bell!

Mallika

ryan s said...

I'll take Anand's original comment on parody a step further here: Carroll has taken an out-and-out devotional poem that denounces worldliness in the promise of eternity with a Christian god and completely inverted its message. (He stood it on its head, so to speak.) Carroll's Father William attributes his youth not to unwaivering faith, but to frivolity, politics and magic ointment (sold at market value).

I thought it pertinent to mention that, in my youth, I once had a picture book of children's poems. Carroll's version of "You are old, Father William" was one of them. The Victorians may have defeated the entire Western World's sexual instincts, but they sure can't beat our concupiscence for stuff. ^^

Ryan
1.27.06

Ruth Stanier said...

My Mum who is ninety at the end of June has been remembering and quoting the first verse of this poem for the last few months. I promised I would look it up and find the rest of it for her -thanks.

KenroseAcres said...

In the 1940's, in New York City, there was a musical production of "Alice in
Wonderland." My father was a musician in the orchestra and memorized this
poem. I was happy to find the entire poem so easily. Clever thing that it is.

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Anonymous said...

Fun poem!Awesome for a kid.

Anonymous said...

Fun poem!Awesome for a kid.

Anonymous said...

good 2 read easy 2 understand dufficult to follow

Anonymous said...

old is gold... try to be submissive and obedient to your grandparents... this is what i have learned from the [poem

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