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Jabberwocky: Its Simple Joy and Jovial Jargon

Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky sounds like juvenilia (works of an author written as an youth) almost considering the number of nonsense words used; but it is not. However, it is sure to bring the reader joy whether or not the words are understood. And it seems like the words used in this poem are the jargon of a people of Wonderland. Which is why the post is titled Jabberwocky: Its Simple Joy and Jovial Jargon’!

Alice has made many an appearance on my blog, here in a previous AtoZ challenge, as well as in this aptly titled post – Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be (am) too late! (considering the lateness of this J post once again).

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Poetic Potpourri From AtoZ: Jabberwocky: Its Simple Joy and Jovial Jargon

Jabberwocky: Its Simple Joy and Jovial Jargon

A Little About Jabberwocky

As mentioned earlier, Jabberwocky is a nonsense poem written by Lewis Carroll. It is generally considered to be one of the greatest nonsense poems written in English. The poem was included in his 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But the story of Jabberwocky is older than that of Alice. Carroll wrote the first stanza of the poem in 1855. He included it in a periodical called Mischmasch, that he wrote and illustrated for his family. That original piece was titled “Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry”.

Getting back to when the world saw it:

In Through the Looking Glass, Alice chances upon a book very after she finds herself in the Looking-glass room. But she realizes it is kind of funny.

“—for it’s all in some language I don’t know,” she said to herself.

It was like this.

YKCOWREBBAJ

sevot yhtils eht dna, gillirb sawT’
ebaw eht ni elbmig dna eryg diD
,sevogorob eht erew ysmim llA
.ebargtuo shtar emom eht dnA

And soon enough realizes that since she is in the Looking-glass room, she would need a looking-glass to read it the right way.

This was the poem that Alice read.

Jabberwocky

Lewis Carroll

’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.

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.

“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.

And as soon as Alice had read this poem, she says,

“It seems very pretty, but it’s rather hard to understand!” 

 “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—”

Just like Alice herself, all those who read the poem don’t really understand it; but they get a general sense, and yes, it fills ones head with ideas too! Which brings me to that next thing, that……

Jabberwocky is Joy!

While most of the words in Jabberwocky are nonsense, the poem still manages to make sense, and delights the reader at the same time.

To me, and I am guessing, to many of its readers as well, it brings lots of joy, joy at

  • simply reading out loud all those nonsensical words
  • pretending to understand them all
  • making up meanings (new ones with each reading) for the nonce words
  • and then again, just at the creativity and beauty language lends us

The Jargon of Jabberwocky

There is so much jargon in Jabberwocky: all these nonsense words created for this poem that only a select few know the meanings of (Humpty Dumpty, for one); and then there are so many that have made it out into the world for us to use and delight in. So here is my attempt to share all of that.

Cool Things to Know About Jabberwocky

  • The title of this poem is an adjective; and hence should not be preceded with ‘the’. This poem is about the Jabberwock monster, and hence it is Jabberwocky!
  • This poem gave us many new words; chortle was one of the first to make it into the dictionary.
  • Like I mentioned earlier, this poem’s origin dates back to 1855, 16 years before Through the Looking Glass was published.

Jargon Related Activities

  • Write your translated Jabberwocky. You can check out this list of possible meanings of the words as a starting point to translate the poem for yourself. Or you could use Humpty Dumpty’s meanings from the book. Maybe you could read through the poem and make your own list, replacing the words later to create your translated version! Note: See the Learning section later.
  • Be Inspired! Come up with your own nonsense words using Jabberwocky as inspiration; write a nonsense verse or story using those words. And while you use the words, you can still retain rhyme and rhythm, like Carroll did with Jabberwocky. This is again evidence of that wonder language lends us: its open-endedness (linguistic term) allows its users to create new words (and phrases) to the ends of their imaginations. You could also use online nonsense word generators to come up with a few. Googling it will return a bunch of results, like this one.
Jabberwocky Learning Activities
  • Use Nonsense to Learn, Part One. The Wug test to test and enable children’s learning of rules developed by Jean Berko Gleason is one example. Check out the link to understand more about it at Wikipedia.
  • Part Two of Use Nonsense to Learn. Young readers can look at how Carroll uses onomatopoeia throughout the poem to add effect, as well as rhyming (both internal and end rhymes)
  • Use Nonsense to Learn, Part Three. As I mentioned earlier, this poem full of nonsense words still seems to make some sense somehow, right? That is the power of context and word placement. Young readers can grasp the concept of context with Jabberwocky. For example, we realize that slithy and frumious are adjectives, while whiffling is a verb. And Callooh is something like hurray!!
  • More learning can be done. We can arrive at word meanings for the nonsense words using parts of the word separately. Like with slithy; Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice later in the book‘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.’
  • Discuss. Why did Carroll come up with nonsense words for this poem? Why would you or any author invent nonce words at all? What strategies could one use to do so?

Extra, Extra

Fun Stuff

Listen to Benedict Cumberlatch recite Jabberwocky in the video below. It is delightful!! I have already listened to it a few times, and made my family listen too.

And here is Neil Gaiman reciting it in the 🙂

To add to the activities list from the previous section, you can be inspired by all these videos you watched ; and Perform! Read it out loud, along or with a group. Record the audio and share with others; or if you want to take it a step further, enact it out (based on your translation of the poem!) and share a video.

h/t: Wikipedia, InterestingLiterature

Related Reads

Today’s Books

The January Children

Book Info

Title: The January Children
Author: Safia Elhillo
Length: 64 pages
Genre: African Poetry
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press(March 1st 2017)
Source: Library copy

Description: The January Children depicts displacement and longing while also questioning accepted truths about geography, history, nationhood, and home. The poems mythologize family histories until they break open, using them to explore aspects of Sudan’s history of colonial occupation, dictatorship, and diaspora. Several of the poems speak to the late Egyptian singer Abdelhalim Hafez, who addressed many of his songs to the asmarani—an Arabic term of endearment for a brown-skinned or dark-skinned person. Elhillo explores Arabness and Africanness and the tensions generated by a hyphenated identity in those two worlds.

My Thoughts

Safia Elhillo writes in her dedication thus, “The January Children are the generation born in Sudan under British occupation, where children were assigned birth years by height, all given the birth date January 1.” 

It reminded me of another powerful immigration story I read last year, When Stars are Scattered, and it once again brought to the forefront all the issues that surround immigration.

Elhillo’s very first poem vocabulary shows how it is to be stranded between cultures. You should listen to her recite this as well as a few other poems of hers (some from this collection) here.

Safia Elhillo takes readers on a journey of powerful emotions; heartbreak, agony, about identity and trying to discover it, about a sense of belonging, about borders themselves, and so much more.

“it was easier to just be something else”

Readers will learn a lot without realizing it; as did I, about Sudan and about Abdel Halim especially. While I did know a bit about Sudan and issues that have plagued the nation, Elhillo’s words offer a different yet emotional and powerful perspective.

Do read the foreword by Kwame Dawes, both for what it says, and also that it will help provide context and meaning to Elhillo’s words and verses. Additional matter include acknowledgements and further notes.

In Summary

A powerful moving read that is bound to generate many discussions; and always timely.

Get It Here

Amazon  || Barnes and Noble || Book Depository || BookShop || IndieBound 

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book feature: the january children

Joyful Noise

Book Info

Title: Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices
Author: Paul Fleischman
Illustrator: Eric Beddows 
Length: 44 pages
Genre: Children’s Poetry Anthologies (8 – 12 years)
Publisher: HarperCollins (June 18th 2019; first published March 1st 1988)
Source: Library copy

From the Newbery Medal-winning author of Seedfolks, Paul Fleischman, Joyful Noise is a collection of irresistible poems that celebrates the insect world. Funny, sad, loud, and quiet, each of these poems resounds with a booming, boisterous, joyfulnoise.

My Thoughts

Joyful, as it says! And even more joyful when read in the way it was intended to, with someone else; in a chorus of voices…

It is hard to pick a favorite as I enjoyed every read; but maybe the poem Book Lice considering the subject matter appealed to me a tad bit more!

Eric Beddows’ illustrations are cool, detailed sketches in black and white, and reflect the mood of the poem while ensuring a reality in the depiction of the featured bugs.

snippet from the e-book copy to help show the joyful noises and the detailed illustrations

Bonus: I learned about so many bugs I had not heard of before; or did not really know their names even if I was aware of them.

In Summary

Simply said (and at the risk of repeating myself): joyful!

Get It Here

Amazon  || Barnes and Noble || Book Depository || BookShop || IndieBound 

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book feature: joyful noise: poems for two voices

Related Reads

And Now, the End of This Post

Dear reader, as always, and always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions, as well as recommendations. Have you read the featured books or any similar reads? Have you read Jabberwocky before? Any other nonsense poems you have read and enjoyed? Do let me know; I would love to hear about them and read them as well!!

The AtoZ Challenges

Linking to both the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge and the BlogchatterA2Z-2021 

You can find all my A2Z Challenge Posts here.

10 thoughts on “Jabberwocky: Its Simple Joy and Jovial Jargon

  1. While the word Jabberwocky is a fun one to say, I am not a fan of the mumbo jumbo words that come with it. I never even talked “baby talk” to my kids when they were little. Just don’t like that. Don’t know why.

  2. I have to admit, I was never a fan of Alice in Wonderland. I was a prolific bookworm even as a child but over Alice I preferred The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I do like the word Jabberwocky though. Interesting post.

  3. I didn’t know the Jabberwocky poem or this concept, but I absolutely love it! Just watched the video with the recital with Neil Gaiman and am deeply fascinated. I do like the idea of using this as a prompt for myself, to write something jabberwocky. It also makes me think of when you learn a new language, and both what you say and what you manage to understand is like 70 % OK, and the rest is guesswork. It is up to us how we make sense of the remaining 30 %.
    Thanks for stopping by so that I had the chance to discover this inspiring post!

  4. Another informative post. Strangely, I was thinking about Jabberwocky the other day. I was playing a fantasy game which cleverly slipped in literary references…like ‘vorpal blade’. There were also references to Harry Potter universe, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Terry Pratchett, Lovecraft, and many others – so, great fun spotting them.

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