|| Inscribed to a
in memory of golden summer hours
and whispers of a summer sea.
Girt with a boyish garb for boyish task,
Eager she wields her spade: yet loves as well
Rest on a friendly knee, intent to ask
The tale he loves to tell.
Rude spirits of the seething outer strife,
Unmeet to read her pure and simple spright,
Deem, if you list, such hours a waste of life,
Empty of all delight!
Chat on, sweet Maid, and rescue from annoy
Hearts that by wiser talk are unbeguiled.
Ah, happy he who owns that tenderest joy,
The heart-love of a child!
Away, fond thoughts, and vex my soul no more!
Work claims my wakeful nights, my busy days―
Albeit bright memories of that sunlit shore
Yet haunt my dreaming gaze!
|IF――and the thing is
wildly possible――the charge of writing nonsense were ever
brought against the author of this brief but instructive dpoem,
it would be based, I feel convinced, on the line
"Then the bowsprit got mixed with the
In view of this painful possibility, I will not (as I might)
appeal indignantly to my other writings as a proof that I am
incapable of such a deed: I will not (as I might) point to the
strong moral purpose of this poem itself, to the arithmetical
principles so cautiouslyi nculcated in it, or to its noble teachings
in Natural History――I willtake the more prosaic course of
simply explaining how it happened.
The Bellman, who was almost morbidly sensitive about appearances,
used to have the bowsprit unshipped once or twice a week to
be revarnished; and it more than once happened, when the time
came for replacing it, that no one on board could remember which
end of the ship it belonged to. They knew it was not of the
slightest use to appeal to the Bellman about it――he would
only refer to his Naval Code, and read out in pathetic tones
Admiralty Instructions which none of
them had ever been able to understand- so it generally ended
in its being fastened on, anyhow, across the rudder. The helmsman*
used to stand by with tears in his eyes: he knew it was all
wrong, but alas! Rule 42 of the Code, "No one shall speak
to the Man at the Helm," had been completed by the Bellman
himself with the words "and the Man at the Helm shall speak
to no one." So remonstrance was impossible, and no steering
could be done till the next varnishing day. During these bewildering
intervals the ship usually sailed backwards.
As this poem is to some extent connected with the lay of the
Jabberwock, let me take this opportunity of answering a question
that has often been asked me, how to pronounce "slithy
toves." The "i" in "slithy" is long,
as in "writhe"; and "toves" is pronounced
so as to rhyme with "groves." Again, the first "o"
in "borogoves" is pronounced like the "o"
in "borrow." I have heard people try to give it the
sound of the "o" in "worry." Such is Human
This also seems a fitting occasion to notice the other hard
words in that poem. Humpty-Dumpty's theory, of two meanings
packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right
explanation for all.
For instance, take the two words "fuming" and "furious."
Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it
unsettled which you will say first. Now open your mouth and
speak. If your thoughts incline ever so little towards "fuming,"
you will say "fuming-furious"; if they turn, by even
a hair's breadth, towards "furious," you will say
"furious-fuming"; but if you have that
rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say "frumious."
Supposing that, when Pistol uttered the well-known words―
"Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or
Justice Shallow had felt certain that it was either William
or Richard, but had not been able to settle which, so that he
could not possibly say either name before the other, can it
be doubted that, rather than die, he would have gasped out "Rilchiam!"
|* This office was usually undertaken
by the Boots, who found in it a refuge from the Baker's constant
complaints about the insufficient blacking of his three pairs