17 April 2011

J is for Jabberwocky

I love clever writing, be it prose or poetry.  One of my best poems of all time is the Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.  I find it amazing that it is able to portray such wonderfully vivid imagery using rubbish meaningless words.

Take the first paragraph:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

All words besides the conjunctions, definite articles and the word “gyre” are meaningless.  What do these words mean: brillig, slithy, toves, gimble, wabe, mimsy, borogroves, mome, raths, outgrabe?  Nothing.  Yet they engender feelings of anxiety and fear.  Cold.  Dark.  Slimy.  A cave or a forest.  Well, that’s the feelings I get from that passage.

It is interesting that Carroll used the word “gyre” (a valid English word meaning “to cause to spin around or whirl”) when all the other major words are meaningless.  The word “gyre” comes from the Latin gȳrus “circle” and from Greek guros so its existence in the modern English lexicon is not due to this poem, as far as I can tell.

The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (from Alice in Wonderland)

'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 did a quick Google image search on the word Jabberwocky and these are the first 5 unique image hits.  Notice the similarity in the artwork.  I bet this is exactly what you visualised.




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  2. This is a seriously cool poem. Go Lewis Carroll.

  3. The words are so cool. Vorpal, wiffling, burbled, galumphing (which is now a valid English word). Fantastic writing.

  4. great illustrations, Grant, and the poem is crazily cool. There's a mini series coming to TV some time soon with the same name, but it has nothing to do with the poem :)

  5. Hey Dezmond. Awesome blog you have! +1 Follower. I'll check your blog for details on that Jabberwocky mini-series.

  6. thanks, glad you like it, and hope to see you over there often :)
    You can find that mini series by using the search button in my right sidebar ;)