Jabberwocky

by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)

`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.

~ from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, found online here. To hear it sung, click here.

I love this poem, and, indeed, most literary nonsense. Alice responds to this poem by saying, “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas–only I don’t exactly know what they are!” What an amazing art, to inspire worlds without describing any real world or creatures or actions.

I think the parables of Jesus did this.

The parables seem to be referencing real worlds, actual events, historical people, but in fact, we are supplying all these images in response to vague, but tantalizing fictions. The sparsity of description in the parables, the focus on action, allows us to fill in the visual blanks. Perhaps Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” takes the opposite tack, offering only nonsensical adjectives and fanciful-sounding creatures for us to imagine, but the result is the same: we are transported into a world we are not a part of, but wholly participate in.

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