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Jabberwocky -- Lewis Carroll

Guest poem sent in by Rohit Grover
(Poem #52) Jabberwocky
'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 manxnome 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.
-- Lewis Carroll
Annotations by Martin Gardner:

The OED lists "slithy" as a variant of "sleathy," an obsolete word meaning
slovenly, but later Humpty Dumpty gives "slithy" a different

"Toves" should be pronounced to rhyme with "groves," Carroll tells us in
his preface to The Hunting ot the Snark.

The OED traces "gyre" back to 1420 as a word meaning to turn or whirl
around. This agrees with Humpty Dumpty's interpretation.

According to the OED, "gimble" is a variant spelling of "gimbal." Gimbals
are pivoted rings used for various purposes, such as suspending a ship's
compass so that it remains horizontal while the ship rolls. Humpty Dumpty
makes it clear, however, that the verb "gimble" is here used in a
different sense.

"Mimsy" is the first of eight nonsense words in Jabberwocky that are used
again in The Hunting of the Snark. In Carroll's time, according to the
OED, "mimsey" meant "pring, prudish, contemptible." Perhaps Carroll had
this in mind.

In his preface to the Snark, Carroll writes: "The first 'o' in
'borogoves' is pronounced like the 'o' in 'borrow.' I have heard people
give it the sound of 'o' in 'worry.' Such is Human Perversity." The word
is commonly mispronounced 'borogroves' by Carroll novitiates, and this
misspelling even appears in some American editions of the book.

"Mome" has a number of obsolete meanings such as mother, a
blockhead, a carping critic, a buffoon, none of which,
judging from Humpty Dumpty's interpretation, Carroll had in mind.

According to Humpty Dumpty, a 'rath' is a green pig but in Carroll's day
it was a well known old Irish word for an enclosure, usually a circular
earthen wall, serving as a fort and place of residence for the head of a

'Frumious' is composed of 'fuming' and 'furious.'

'Manx' was the Celtic name for the Isle of Man. Whether Carroll had this
in mind when he coined the word 'manxnome' is unknown.

'Tum-tum' was a common colloquialism in Carroll's day referring to the
sound of a stringed instrument, especially when monotonously strummed.

In a letter, Carroll wrote that 'uffish' suggested to him "a state of mind
when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish and the temper huffish.

'Gallumph' - this Carrollian word has entered the OED as a combination of
'gallop' and 'triumphant,' meaning "to march on exultantly with irregular
bounding movements."

The OED traces the word 'beamish' back to 1530 as a variant of 'beaming.'

'Chortled' - A Carrollian word that has made its way into the OED, where
it is defined as a blend of 'chuckle' and 'snort.'

54 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Eleanor Durrant said...

The most remarkable thing about this poem, for me, is how easy it is to learn.

On a visit to the States a few years ago, I recited it to the son of a friend, who was about four and a
half years old and hadn't yet learned to read. He sat quietly for a minute and then asked to hear it again.
I went back to England and a few weeks later my friend told me that her son had recited the poem to her in
its entirety, unaltered except for the "he" of the protagonist changing to "I" - "I took my vorpal sword in
hand ..."

Eleanor Durrant

Clem Byard said...

All these definitions are given in the book by Humpty Dumpty and as his approach to words is "individual" I think his definitions must be regarded as highly suspect. In point of fact I think the egg is making it up as he goes along and almost any definitions are to be preferred to the one he gives.
Clem B.

StephJMarlow said...

u need to write a page about wont the words mean 4 young children around 10

Anonymous said...

When I read this aloud to my children I like to read the first verse in a creepy voice and the last in a light happy voice. What I love about this poem is that the nonsense words work both ways. Fantastic!

Baby Clothes said...

Lewis Carroll is one of the best poet, i know only few things about him but i like to read his poetries, all are really great for reading.

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