Lewis Carroll is my favorite poet. In this, one of his lesser known poems, he offers commentary on both parenthood and aging. These days, I find myself relating in some weird way and since today is Father’s Day in the US …
I’ve included John Tenniel‘s original illustrations because I love them.
The poem appears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and is recited by Alice (Chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar” which was Chapter 3 in the original manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground). Alice informs the caterpillar she has tried to repeat “How Doth the Little Busy Bee” and it came out all wrong as “How Doth the Little Crocodile”. The caterpillar asks her to repeat “You are old, Father William.”
YOU ARE OLD, FATHER WILLIAM – LEWIS CARROLL
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”
“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”
“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”
“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”
“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”
“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”
“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”
I wasn’t familiar with that poem. You can’t argue with greatness at any age.
I think I like pretty much everything Lewis Caroll wrote, but I thought this was on target for the day 🙂
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Lewis Carroll was a really funny poet and I know this poem quite well, but I still prefer Jabberwocky – one of the only poems I ever bothere to learn by heart.
It’s not my favorite of Carroll’s poems, but it seems more appropriate for Father’s Day than Jabberwocky or The Walrus and the Carpenter — the two that are at the very top of my list. Unless you think The Carpenter was a really BAD father 🙂
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A little verbose for my Dad. But he would’ve loved the sentiment.