Jabberwocky

Original Text: 
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, and what Alice Found There (London: Macmillan and Co., 1872): 21-24. Brabant Carroll Collection C37 T476 1872 copy 3. Fisher Rare Book Library.
2    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
3All mimsy were the borogoves,
4    And the mome raths outgrabe.
5"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
6    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
7Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
8    The frumious Bandersnatch!"
9He took his vorpal sword in hand:
10    Long time the manxome foe he sought --
11So rested he by the Tumtum tree.
12    And stood awhile in thought.
13And as in uffish thought he stood,
14    The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
15Came wiffling through the tulgey wood,
16    And burbled as it came!
17One, two! One, two! And through and through
18    The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
19He left it dead, and with its head
20    He went galumphing back.
21"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
22    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
23O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
24    He chortled in his joy.
25'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
26    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
27All mimsy were the borogoves,
28    And the mome raths outgrabe.
   "It seems very pretty," she said when she had finished it, "but it's rather hard to under­ stand!" (You see she didn't like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas -- only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate --"
   ....
   [pp. 126-29] "You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir," said Alice. "Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called `Jabberwocky'?"
   "Let's hear it," said Humpty Dumpty. "I can explain all the poems that ever were in­ vented -- and a good many that haven't been invented just yet."
   This sounded very hopeful, so Alice repeated the first verse:
"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe."
   "That's enough to begin with," Humpty Dumpty interrupted; "there are plenty of hard words there. `Brillig' means four o'clock in the afternoon -- the time when you begin broiling things for dinner."
   "That'll do very well," said Alice; "and `slithy'?"
   "Well, `slithy' means `lithe and slimy.' `Lithe' is the same as `active.' You see it's like a portmanteau -- there are two meanings packed up into one word."
   "I see it now," Alice remarked thoughtfully: "and what are `toves'?"
   "Well, `toves' are something like badgers -- they're something like lizards -- and they're something like corkscrews."
   "They must be very curious-looking creatures."
   "They are that," said Humpty Dumpty: "also they make their nests under sun-dials -- also they live on cheese."
   "And what's to `gyre' and to `gimble'?"
   "To `gyre' is to go round and round like a gyroscope. To `gimble' is to make holes like a gimlet."
   "And `the wabe' is the grass-plot round a sundial, I suppose?" said Alice, surprised at her own ingenuity.
   "Of course it is. It's called `wabe,' you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it -- --"
   "And a long way beyond it on each side," added Alice.
   "Exactly so. Well, then, `mimsy' is `flimsy and miser­ able' (there's another portmanteau for you). And a borogove is a thin, shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round -- something like a live mop."
   "And then `mome raths'?" said Alice. "I'm afraid I'm giving you a great deal of trouble."
   "Well, a `rath' is a sort of green pig: but `mome' I'm not certain about. I think it's short for `from home' -- meaning that they'd lost their way, you know."
   "And what does `outgrabe' mean?"
   "Well, `outgribing' is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle: however, you'll hear it done maybe -- down in the wood yonder -- and when you've once heard it you'll be quite content. Who's been repeating all that hard stuff to you?"

Notes

1] The first stanza of this poem is first printed backwards but Alice reads it by holding it up to a looking-glass. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1855
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: