Nonsense in literature

Is it possible to be inspired by a piece of writing whose meaning you seem unable to penetrate? Can that same piece of writing convey an imperative that carries a sense of urgency though you have no comprehension how it might be complied with? Is it possible furthermore that this piece of writing can call itself literature and poetry at the same time, taking on a flavoursome charm when read aloud by a competent orator? The answer, to my mind is a resounding ‘Yes’. How delightful too then, when that piece of literature should have been written for children and have succeeded in capturing their imagination for many, many years.

Maybe you’re ahead of me and you’ve guessed. In the English language, alongside Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Charles Dodgson’s The Jabberwocky stands ‘head and shoulders’ above all others. Hang on a minute, you might protest who’s that? Lewis Carroll, an adopted nom de plume taken up by the enigmatic Charles Dodgson, became a household name for his Alice books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

John Tenniel's original illustration of the Jabberwocky

John Tenniel’s original illustration of the Jabberwock

The poem, which Vernon sets as a test for his prototype nonsense filter, in the book of the same name, is a quick witted and poetically rhythmic piece of nonsense which has sense but obscures it mischievously. I include it below as an enthusiast, as something of a mad hatter myself and because Vernon found inspiration in its enigmatic lines. Beneath the poem you will find links to two entertaining and informative websites that very capably explore the meaning behind this nonsense piece.

‘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.


Still inspiring children and adults.

Still inspiring children and adults.

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.


"O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"

“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

“And hast 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.


Charles Lutwidge Dodgson/ Lewis Carroll 1871


Try Poetry Genius – loose yourself.



A little slower but worth the wait…

Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland Site



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s