I am a student at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. I have chosen Jabberwocky as my poem for a musical composition. I was wondering if any out there would like to help me interpret this poem?
Thanks A Ton,
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Forgive me, but if the choice is yours, why have you picked this particular piece if you then need help explaining it? Jabberwocky is a piece of nonsense verse, told to a little girl by a mathematics don at Oxford University. Much of the two most famous books by Carroll are pure fantasy - although some of the verses are rewritings of extant poetry of the time: a good example being 'Twinkle, twinkle ...'
Children (of all ages?) love to hear new words. The older fashion for dinosaur names, which they can pronounce long before other, more 'useful' names; and the current craze for the Pokemon characters with their wierd and wonderful names are proof of that, surely?
I think you have to imagine that all the names in the poem Jabberwocky are actual ones, as a child would. I suppose you will have seen an edition of the book with the original Tenniel drawings? If not, you should .... to see how one interpretor saw it. And a lot of Edward Lear stuff is very similar: he illustrated his own work.
Mike, go to '"Alice Through the Looking Glass" and speak to Humpty Dumpty! Alice did.
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:<br />
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves<br />
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;<br />
All mimsy were the borogoves,<br />
And the mome raths outgrabe.<br />
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"?'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.'<br />
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 "THE WABE" is the grass-plot round a sun-dial, I suppose?' said Alice, surprised at her own ingenuity.
Of course it is. It's called "WABE," you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it--'And a long way beyond it on each side,' Alice added.
Exactly so. Well, then, "MIMSY" is "flimsy and miserable" (there's another portmanteau for you). And a "BOROGOVE" is a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round -- something like a live mop.'<br />
And then "MOME RATHS"?' said Alice.
I'm afraid I'm giving you a great deal of trouble.'Well, a "RATH" is a sort of green pig: but "MOME" I'm not certain about. I think it's short for "from home" -- meaning that they'd lost their way, you know.'
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.
There was a book some years ago by Martin Gardner (of Scientific American) called "The Annotated Alice", which explicated in great detail the meaning of the odd words in this wonderful poem.
Absolutely right as usual Soma. I think the question is indicative of one of the problems with understanding poetry - sometimes there is no deep hidden meaning but that the poem is just a piece of nonsense verse or a simply a celebration of Spring or Autumn or of beauty. Looking for deep meaning seems to be part of current educational thinking. I recall a fairly deep debate I had with somebody posting on this board some months ago about oneof the Herrick flower poems who was utterly convinced it was a metaphysical metaphor....why is it impossible to celebrate the beauty of a flower without it becoming some form of psychosexual outlet??
Chesil, your experience of a simple Herrick poem parallels mine relative to a simple Dickinson poem. In fact, I suggested its "Alice in Wonderland"-like simplicity, and posted (May 4th) in its regard on a thread entitled Emily Dickenson (sic). I would be pleased to get your comment should you find a moment to visit there.
The deep meanings ascribed to Emily Dickinson work has always troubled me. There are few hints from the poet herself and while she was clearly an extremely intelligent and literate woman, she was also disturbed to some degree - her almost total seclusion for many years of her life may not be described as normal behaviour. To then enwrap her poems with such deep meaning is surely at least questionable.
Looking at the very recent past, in reading Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes, we may have a fairly full understanding of the meaning of each line of the work given the fact that he and Plath's relationship has been picked over so many times by biographers together with hints from Ted himself. If, in fact, the detail of that relationship had been entirely hidden from view one wonders just how the poems would be interpreted - I suspect not with anything close to accuracy.
Personally, I blame John Donne and the rest of the metaphysical crowd for all this. Read Chaucer and what he says is pretty much what he means!