Poetry Wednesday: Snicker-snack, y’all

It’s National Poetry Month in the States, so I thought I’d post a favorite poem or two each Wednesday until we run out of April.  Which I suppose we have.

Decades ago, I took a college speech class— it was a requirement for education majors.  The first assignment was to memorize a favorite poem and recite it dramatically before the class.

I chose Lewis Carroll’s  “Jabberwocky” and performed it with hand gestures, teeth-gnashing, and a fencing saber.  I may have hammed.  A bit.

But according to the notes from the TA, I received a B solely because I’d chosen “a nonsense poem that  doesn’t make sense.”

I know.

So, for the first and only time in my academic career, I challenged a grade.  I argued my case in front of the Head of the Education department.

My point wasn’t that the assignment instructions were faulty, but  that the poem did too make sense.  In fact, the invented language was so deft and onomatopoetic and the structure so classic that the story itself was perfectly clear.

The Head, who was also an English professor, saw it my way.  My B was upgraded and I earned the enmity of the TA for the rest of the semester.

But it was so worth it.

(Lewis Carroll)

`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.

Bravo, Mr. Carroll.


. . . A clerk came to the front, leading a jabberwocky by a pink leash and talking to a largish woman in a purple dress with a pink fur collar.  “Don’t worry, ma’am,” he said.  “Just keep her nails trimmed and make sure she’s got plenty of chew toys.”

The woman nodded.  “But what if she tries to climb on my furniture?”

He pointed to her shiny green shopping bag, the words Designer Pet World glowing on the side in fancy gold letters.  “Just show her the vorpal sword, and you shouldn’t have any problems.”  He handed her the leash.

The woman bent over and caressed the muzzled snout with beringed hands.  “Is ‘oo ready to go home, mama’s little pwecious?  Is ‘oo?  Kiss-kiss.” 

The beast burbled, and the woman led it away, her heels snicker-snacking in counterpoint to her new pet’s whiffling armaments.

“Home protection, I can see,” I said.  “But kiss-kiss?”

The clerk turned to me and beamed.  “Can I interest you in a pet, sir?  We’re running a special on cold-heat phoenices.”

“What’s a pheenicee?”

“Phoenices,” he said, drawing out the final zee.  “The plural of phoenix.”

I stared at him.  “There’s no plural of phoenix,” I told him.  “There’s only supposed to be one at a time.”

He turned up the sincerity in his smile.  “They’re very popular.  Hours of entertainment.  You can even set the rebirth cycle to suit your convenience.”

I shuddered.  “No, thanks.”

“Are you sure?  They’re solar-powered.”


“I can offer gryphons and manticores.  Or maybe a Vatican-endorsed unicorn?  Guaranteed virgin-sensitive.”

I turned to go.

“We just got in a sphinx,” he called.

“I know the riddle already,” I said over my shoulder.  What was the plural of sphinx supposed to be? 


 (“Bootleg Dog,” Sarah’s File of Shipwrecked Stories, page 3)