Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lewis Carroll

Hi, Everybody!

I was going to give you one of Lewis Carroll's nonsense poems today, "You Are Old, Father William," perhaps, or the immortal "Jabberwocky." But then I ran across the following, a poem in seven sets of rhymed triplets, and though it is not great per se (it's a good example of "occasional poetry," rhymes writ for an occasion, as for example a small yet graceful poem to be written in the house diary of one's host in thanks for a dinner or weekend's hospitality), I thought it worth your seeing for two reasons. The first is that, as Professor Dodson (LC's real name) loved riddles, puzzles, and word-play of all sorts, he embedded something similar in the poem itself. The second I'll tell you afterwards.

Here it is:

A Boat Beneath A Sunny Sky
by Lewis Carroll

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July -

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear -

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream -
Lingering in the golden dream -
Life, what is it but a dream?

All right, here's the second reason I gave you this poem: It was written (and published as a sort of afterword-dedication) to Alice herself. Alice Pleasance Liddell was the original for the Alice books, which he originally made up as a series of stories he told her on a succession of summer days. The first day of which -- the one when he came up with the idea of Wonderland (though, typically for a Victorian, he called it Fairyland then) -- is immortalized in the poem above.

Go back and re-read it now. MUCH better now that you know what it's about, isn't it? And wouldn't it be great if all the times that in retrospect were so momentous, the first e-mail for example, had been celebrated in poetry by their instigators?

So did you get the big of wordplay? It's an acrostic poem. If you take the first letter of each line and read straight down, they spell out... Ahhh, now you see it.

All best,


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