You are Old, Father William

Original Text: 
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1866): 63-66. [First American edition.] Brabant Carroll Collection C37 A44 1866 Fisher Rare Book Library.
   "Repeat `You are old, Father William,'" said the Caterpillar.
   Alice folded her hands, and began: --
2    "And your hair has become very white;
3And yet you incessantly stand on your head --
4    Do you think, at your age, it is right?"
5"In my youth," father William replied to his son,
6    "I feared it would injure the brain;
7But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
8    Why, I do it again and again."
9"You are old," said the youth, "as I mentioned before,
10    And have grown most uncommonly fat;
11Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door --
12    Pray, what is the reason of that?"
13"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
14    "I kept all my limbs very supple
15By the use of this ointment -- one shilling the box --
16    Allow me to sell you a couple."
17"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak
18    For anything tougher than suet;
19Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak --
20    Pray, how did you manage to do it?"
21"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
22    And argued each case with my wife;
23And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
24    Has lasted the rest of my life."
25"You are old," said the youth; one would hardly suppose
26    That your eye was as steady as ever;
27Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose --
28    What made you so awfully clever?"
29"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
30    Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
31Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
32    Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!"
"That is not said right," said the Caterpillar.
   "Not quite right, I'm afraid," said Alice timidly; "some of the words have got altered."
   "It is wrong from beginning to end," said the Caterpillar decidedly, and there was silence for some minutes.


1] This parodies Robert Southey's "The Old Man's Comforts and How he Gained Them." The Caterpillar and Alice are correct when they say that the words are not "quite right." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.