The other day over at Bluebird Blvd we were asked the question ‘what was the first poem you remember reading?’
I was one of those children whose best friends were books. I learned to read at a very young age, and because of that, I suspect the books I read were mostly far too old for me. Yeah Jaws, I’m talking to you.
It didn’t matter though, words were as important as air. I read everything that passed before my eyes, and still do. Even if I didn’t understand their meaning, the words were right there, waiting to be read and, so, I read them.
The first poems I remember reading are those of Lewis Carroll. He wrote the kind of poetry that appealed to a child like me.
Take ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ for example;
But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat–
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.
Wonderful! I could just imagine oysters sprouting feet, eager for a walk with their new friends. Oysters clearly have no need for either shoes or faces, and that made it even more amusing to me.
The miserable Mock Turtle and his Lobster Quadrille;
“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail.
“Theres a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.”
I loved them all, even though I felt a little sorry for the pig-baby;
Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes:
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases.
My favourite however, and one I remember falling immediately in love with was the 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 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, has 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.
I was young. Who was I to know that those words were not all dictionary-worthy? I didn’t know exactly what a Tove was, but they were slithy, and the borogoves were mimsy. It all seemed pretty clear to me.
Recently I found, in wikipedia, an interpretation of those wonderful words. I was a little apprehensive about reading the real meanings and comparing them to what I though the words had meant. Maybe knowing what he was really talking about would ruin my Jabberwocky love!
I couldn’t resist, and, taking a deep breath, prepared to have my childish love crushed by the truth.
To me slithy was always a slithery, slimy thing, and mimsy was miserable. Galumphing was easy, Mum often told me to stop galloping around the house, it just had to be the same. Uffish was probably how you felt after you had gone off in a huff, tick!
Brillig seemed to be when the setting sun shone brightly in the sky, it turned out to be about 4pm, the time for broiling dinner. Close! Gyre and gimble just had to be leaping about in circles nimbly. Gyre was right, but to gimble was to make holes in the ground. Oh well…
Even though I was wrong on some of the meanings it didn’t make me feel any differently about it. Jabberwocky was a poem you read with your feelings, not your brain. I still love it, and, when I read it now, those meanings I attached to the words as a child are still what I want them to mean.
Over the weekend I read the Jabberwocky to my boys. I am ashamed to say that I haven’t before. I wondered if they would tell me it didn’t make sense, or, like I did, just enjoy it. I got to the end and they were still listening.
‘Hmmm…pretty good’ said number 1.
‘I didn’t hear it all’ said number 2. ‘Can you read it again?’
I did, then asked them what they thought a vorpal sword might be. They are boys, swords are what boys pay most attention to when there are no video games around.
‘Well, a very important sword’ ventured one. ‘A sword with a big jewel in the handle’ said the other.
They didn’t question any of the other words, and I asked them what they thought some of them meant. ‘Well, I don’t know. Obviously they are words, I just don’t know what they mean. It’s weird, I like it’.
Of course, neither of them are the book-loving little girl I was, they were more interested in talking about the picture of the Jabberwocky bearing down on the boy with the vorpal sword. Why am I not surprised…
I will finish with perhaps one of the greatest poetry performances of all time. Jabberwocky as performed by the Muppets. Enjoy….