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The Hunting of the Snark
in Eight Fits
Inscribed to a dear Child:
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 poem, it would be based, I feel convinced, on the line
- ``Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes''
- 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
- cautiously inculcated in it, or to its noble teachings in Natural
- History---I will take 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.
- [*] 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 of boots.
- 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 Perversity.
- 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
- Supposing that, when Pistol uttered the well-known words---
- ``Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or die!''
- 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!''.
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