LEWIS CARROLL (1832-1898)


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1     'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
2         Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
3     All mimsy were the borogoves,
4         And the mome raths outgrabe.

5     "Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
6         The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
7     Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
8         The frumious Bandersnatch!"

9     He took his vorpal sword in hand:
10       Long time the manxome foe he sought --
11   So rested he by the Tumtum tree.
12       And stood awhile in thought.

13   And as in uffish thought he stood,
14       The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
15   Came wiffling through the tulgey wood,
16       And burbled as it came!

17   One, two! One, two! And through and through
18       The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
19   He left it dead, and with its head
20       He went galumphing back.

21   "And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
22       Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
23   O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
24       He chortled in his joy.

25   'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
26       Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
27   All mimsy were the borogoves,
28       And the mome raths outgrabe.

    "It seems very pretty," she said when she
had finished it, "but it's rather hard to under­
stand!" (You see she didn't like to confess, even
to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.)
"Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas
-- only I don't exactly know what they are!
However, somebody killed something: that's clear,
at any rate --"

.... [pp. 126-29]     "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 ever were in­
vented -- and a good many that haven't been
invented just yet."

    This sounded very hopeful, so Alice repeated
the first verse:

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

    "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

   "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."

    "And what's to `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
sundial, 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,"
added Alice.

    "Exactly so. Well, then, `mimsy' is `flimsy and miser­
able' (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."

    "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, `outgribing' 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. Who's been repeating all that hard
stuff to you?"


Composition Date:
not known.
The first stanza of this poem is first printed backwards but Alice reads it by holding it up to a looking-glass.