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)


16 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday: Snicker-snack, y’all

  1. Wonderful poem to share! My class read The Walrus and The Carpenter a couple of weeks ago, to my joy and their dismay–they got into it, though, once they -got- it.

    And bravo, Sarah! For standing up for your A and the snippet from your file of stories that, from this example, are decidedly not shipwrecked (even if I do love the title).

  2. I had never read this poem until my boss named his son Beamish. My boss is british so we thought it was something we just had never heard, and then I read this.

    I took a public speaking class in college as well and after my first speech, the professor pulled me aside and told me I would be better served to take and acting class and I should go into public relations. He let me TA the rest of the semester and I loved it.
    What he didn’t know was that I had sung throughout high school and if you can get up and sing in front of people, talking is nothing.
    I’ve unfortunately in the twenty years since lost that ability and confidence. Why on earth would you get less confident as you age? File this under teenagers skin…

    • No way! Beamish is a last name around here, but for a first name? I hope the kid doesn’t end up hating this poem.

      I was never that confident giving speeches or soloing—playing bassoon doesn’t particularly prepare one for the spotlight—but reciting other people’s lines (especially funny lines) I could do. Probably why I prefer library work to teaching.

  3. Whan that Aprill with his shoure soote, this came to mind. We had to memorize this is in junior English. These two poems always makes me think of each other. And way to argue your grade, I love that.

    • I think Mom can still recite The Prologue from memory—I’ll have to ask next time I talk to her.

      I was spared—by the time I went to school, we were Wandering Freely as a Cloud and wondering about Tygers burning Bryte.

  4. Who knew that the poor Jabberwock was a girl? It all makes perfect sense now.

    What a great story! It reads like a U.S. Open tennis match. You can even set the rebirth cycle for your convenience. What a fabulous line! I want to use it as a writing prompt!

    Good for you for standing up for yourself. Your parents must have been so proud.

    • The female of the species is deadlier than the male . . .

      Prompt away—as long as you share!

      Mom was proud and seriously ticked off at the TA. Dad wasn’t sure he understood the poem, and warned me that the TA wouldn’t love me for it, but he coached me through the challenge process, anyway.

  5. I always wondered what a frumious Bandersnatch looked like. We studied this one in my 7th grade English class. I had some great teachers that year, who brought various art forms to light. We studied everything from Poe to the Beatles in that class. And the vocabulary lessons were top-notch! Thanks for bringing the memories to mind.

    • I always picture a Bandersnatch as a giant catfish with a cummerbund, but I’m probably alone in that . . .

      People forget that lyrics are poetry, too. Your teachers sound awesome!

      • A catfish with a cummerbund? Surely not. A frumious Bandersnatch is clearly a badger with a walrus mustache.

        • Well, definitely a mustache, preferably one he can twirl villainously. And catfish spikes should definitely be included. Perhaps a tiara to go with the cummerbund?

          The teachers were great. I still get chills when I think about the dramatic reading of ‘Telltale Heart’ (done in the dark around Halloween).

        • I love the idea of a tiara, but would it be considered a tad too fruminous for Spring?

          Oooo! New Halloween tradition at the library! Thanks, Odie! 🙂

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