Poem Origins: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Select a poem:



How doth the little crocodile

How doth the little crocodile (Carroll)
Against Idleness and Mischief (Isaac Watts)
How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labour or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last


Back to top

You are old, Father William

Jo Elwyn Jones and J. Francis Gladstone argue in their "The Alice Companion" that Carroll's poem is also a parody on the Oxford reformer and Broad Church theologian Dr. Benjamin Jowett. They see in the references to his standing on his head and turning backward somersaults the repetition of Carroll's view that Jowett was turning Oxford on its head. 'Suet' and 'do it' apprear to be rhymes on Jowett or 'Juet'. Carroll's earlier scetches for Alice's Adventures Underground show the young man with a haircut looking like a drawing Carroll made of himself as a mad student with his hair in a gale. The phrase 'Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs' may refer to Jowett's triumph over the High Church faction.

You are old, Father William (Carroll)
The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them (Robert Southey)
"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 the 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!"
"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth would fly fast,
And abus'd not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And life must be hast'ning away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"I am cheerful, young man," father William replied,
"Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember'd my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age"


Back to top

Speak roughly to your little boy

There is some uncertainty as to the author of this poem, for it occasionally appears as anonymous, or credited to David Bates, but is generally attributed to Langford.
The poem has an additional intent beyond simply burlesquing Langford's poem. It expresses Carroll's distaste for little boys. It is unthinkable that Carroll could have written "I speak severely to my girl / and beat her when she sneezes." (Gardner "Speak Roughly" Lewis Carroll in Perspective).

Speak roughly to your little boy (Carroll)
Speak Gently (G.W. Langford)
Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes:
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases.

Chorus (In which the cook and the baby joined):--
Wow! wow! wow!

I speak severely to my boy,
And beat him when he sneezes:
For he can thoroughly enjoy
The pepper when he pleases

Chorus:
Wow! wow! wow!
Speak gently! It is better far
To rule by love than fear;
Speak gently; let no harsh words mar
The good we might do here!

Speak gently! Love doth whisper low
The vows that true hearts bind;
And gently Friendship's accents flow;
Affection's voice is kind.

Speak gently to the little child!
Its love be sure to gain;
Teach it accents soft and mild;
It may not long remain.

Speak gently to the young, for they
Will have enough to bear;
Pass through this life as best they may,
'Tis full of anxious care!

Speak gently to the aged one,
Grieve not the care-worn heart;
Whose sands of life are nearly run,
Let such in peace depart!

Speak gently to the erring; know
They may have toiled in vain;
Perchance unkindness made them so;
Oh, win them back again!

Speak gently! He who gave his life
To bend man's stubborn will,
When elements were in fierce strife,
Said to them, "Peace, be still."

Speak gently! 'is a little thing
Dropped in the heart's deep well;
The good, the joy, that it may bring,
Eternity shall tell


Back to top

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat (Carroll)
The Star (Jane Taylor)
Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!
Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea-tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveller in the dark
Thanks you for you tiny spark:
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye
Til the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark
Lights the traveller in the dark,
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star


Back to top

The Lobster Quadrille

In Carroll's original manuscript, 'Alice's Adventures under Ground', the Lobster Quadrille poem was different from the one in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. The poem has been modificated several times and several versions appear in print. The beat of the metre of 'the Spider and the Fly' is perfectly kept in the Mock Turtle's song. On July 3, 1862, Carroll mentions in his diary hearing the Liddell sisters sing the ministrel song 'with great spirit'. (source: Gardner, M., The Annotated Alice, 1998, p.133)

The Lobster Quadrille (Carroll)
The Spider and the Fly (Mary Howitt)
`"Will you walk a little faster?" said a whiting to a snail.
"There's a porpoise close behind us, and he's treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle--will you come and join the dance?

Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?

"You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!"
But the snail replied "Too far, too far!" and gave a look askance--
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.

Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.

`"What matters it how far we go?" his scaly friend replied.
"There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
The further off from England the nearer is to France--
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.

Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?"'
"Will you walk into my parlor?"
Said a spider to a fly;
'Tis the prettiest little parlor
That ever you did spy.
The way into my parlor
Is up a winding stair,
And I have many pretty things
To show when you are there."
"Oh, no, no!" said the little fly,
"To ask me is in vain;
For who goes up your winding stair
Can ne'er come down again."

"I'm sure you must be weary
With soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?"
Said the spider to the fly.
"There are pretty curtains drawn around,
The sheets are fine and thin;
And if you like to rest awhile,
I'll snugly tuck you in."
"Oh, no, no!" said the little fly,
"For I've often heard it said,
They never, never wake again
Who sleep upon your bed."

Said the cunning spider to the fly,
"Dear friend, what shall I do
To prove the warm affection
I've always felt for you?
I have within my pantry
Good store of all that's nice;
I'm sure you're very welcome-
Will you please to take a slice.
"Oh, no, no!" said the little fly,
"Kind sir, that cannot be;
I've heard what's in your pantry,
And I do not wish to see."

"Sweet creature," said the spider,
"You're witty and you're wise;
How handsome are your gauzy wings,
How brilliant are your eyes.
I 'have a little looking-glass
Upon my parlor shelf;
If you'll step in one moment, dear,
You shail behold yourself."
"I thank you, gentle sir," she said,
"For what you're pleased to say,
And bidding you good-morning, now,
I'll call another day."

The spider turned him round about,
And went into his den,
For well he knew the silly fly
Would soon be back again;
So he wove a subtle thread
In a little corner sly,
And set his table ready
To dine upon the fly.
He went out to his door again,
And merrily did sing,
"Come hither, hither, pretty fly,
With the pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple,
There's a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright,
But mine are dull as lead."

Alas, alas! how very soon
This silly little fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words,
Came slowly flitting by
With buzzing wings she hung aloft,
Then near and nearer drew-
Thought only of her brilliant eyes,
And green and purple hue;
Thought only of her crested head-
Poor foolish thing!
At last Up jumped the cunning spider,
And fiercely held her fast.

He dragged her up his winding stair,
Into his dismal den
Within his little parlor-but
She ne'er came out again!
And now, dear little children
Who may this story read,
To idle, silly, flattering words,
I pray you, ne'er give heed:
Unto an evil counsellor
Close heart and ear and eye,
And learn a lesson from this tale
Of the spider and the fly.
The Lobster Quadrille
(Carroll in his original manuscript)
A Negro minstrel song,
which chorus begins with the following
Beneath the waters of the sea
Are Lobsters thick as thick can be -
They love to dance with you and me,
My own, my gentle Salmon!

CHORUS:
Salmon, come up! Salmon, go down!
Salmon come twist your tail around!
Of all the fishes of the sea
There's none so good as Salmon!
Sally come up! Sally go down!
Sally come twist your heel around!


Back to top

'Tis the voice of the Lobster

'Tis the voice of the Lobster (Carroll)
The Sluggard (Isaac Watts)
'Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him declare
"You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair."
As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose
Trims his belt and buttons, and turns out his toes.
When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark:
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.

I passed by his garden, and marked with one eye,
How the Owl and Panther were sharing a pie:
The Panther took pie-crust, and gravy and meat,
While the Owl had the dish as its share of the treat.
When the pie was all finished, the Owl as a boon,
Was kindly permitted to pocket the spoon:
While the Panther received knife and fork with a growl,
And concluded the banquet --
'Tis the voice of the sluggard; I heard him complain,
"You have wak'd me too soon, I must slumber again."
As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,
Turns his sides and his shoulders and his heavy head.

"A little more sleep, and a little more slumber;"
Thus he wastes half his days, and his hours without number,
And when he gets up, he sits folding his hands,
Or walks about sauntering, or trifling he stands.

I pass'd by his garden, and saw the wild brier,
The thorn and the thistle grown broader and higher;
The clothes that hang on him are turning to rags;
And his money still wastes till be starves or he begs.

I made him a visit, still hoping to find
That he took better care for improving his mind:
He told me his dream, talked of eating and drinking;
But he scarce reads his Bible, and never loves thinking.

Said I then to my heart, "Here's a lesson for me,"
This man's a picture of what I might be:
But thanks to my friends for their care in my breeding,
Who taught me betimes to love working and reading


Back to top

Turtle Soup

Carroll mainly parodies the overblown sentimentality of the song, not so much the message of it. As Florence Milner wrote in her book 'The Poems in Alice in Wonderland': 'The most delightful part of the parody is the division of the words in the refrain in imitation of the approved method of singing the song with its holds and sentimental stress upon the last word.'

Turtle Soup (Carroll)
Star of the Evening (James M. Sayle)
Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

Beau--ootiful Soo--oop!
Beau--ootiful Soo--oop
Soo--oop of the e--e--evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two p
ennyworth only of Beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?

Beau--ootiful Soo--oop!
Beau--ootiful Soo--oop!
Soo--oop of the e--e--evening,
Beautiful, beauti--FUL SOUP!
Beautiful star in heav'n so bright,
Softly falls thy silv'ry light,
As thou movest from earth afar,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

Chorus:
Beautiful star,
Beautiful star,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

In Fancy's eye thou seem'st to say,
Follow me, come from earth away.
Upward thy spirit's pinions try,
To realms of love beyond the sky.

Shine on, oh star of love divine,
And may our soul's affection twine
Around thee as thou movest afar,
Star of the twilight, beautiful star


Back to top

The tarts

Carroll re-used an old nursery rhyme for his 'tarts' poem.

The Tarts (Carroll)
The Tarts (Mother Goose)
The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!
The Queen of Hearts,
She made some tarts,
All on a summer's day;
The Knave of Hearts,
He stole the tarts,
And took them clean away.

The King of Hearts
Called for the tarts,
And beat the Knave full sore;
The Knave of Hearts
Brought back the tarts,
And vowed he'd steal no more.


Back to top

The letter in the trial

The poem upon which this parody is based is not as well known as most of the other, the first two lines being the only ones often quoted. For some unknown reason Carroll dropped the first stanza, beginning with the second, thus obliterating all evident resemblance between parody and original. The original poem is about an unrequited love from man for a girl called Alice… could it perhaps be a reflection of Dodgson’s love for Alice?
Several years before Alice in Wonderland was published, Carroll had already written a slightly different version of this poem. It appeared in The Comic Times of London in 1855.

The letter in the trial (Carroll)
Alice Gray (William Mee)
She's all my fancy painted him
(I make no idle boast);
If he or you had lost a limb,
Which would have suffered most?

They told me you had been to her,
And mentioned me to him:
She gave me a good character,
But said I could not swim.

He sent them word I had not gone
(We know it to be true):
If she should push the matter on,
What would become of you?

I gave her one, they gave him two,
You gave us three or more;
They all returned from him to you,
Though they were mine before.

If I or she should chance to be
Involved in this affair,
He trusts to you to set them free,
Exactly as we were.

My notion was that you had been
(Before she had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him, and ourselves, and it.

Don't let him know she liked them best,
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me.
She's all my fancy painted her, she's lovely, she's divine,
But her heart it is another's, she never can be mine.
Yet loved I as man never loved, a love without decay,
Oh, my heart, my heart is breaking for the love of Alice Gray.

Her dark brown hair is braided o'er a brow of spotless white,
Her soft blue eye now languishes, now flashes with delight;
Her hair is braided not for me, the eye is turned away,
Yet my heart, my heart is breaking for the love of Alice Gray.

I've sunk beneath the summer's sun, and trembled in the blast.
But my pilgrimage is nearly done, the weary conflict's past;
And when the green sod wraps my grave, may pity haply say,
Oh, his heart, his heart is broken for the love of Alice Gray!


Back to top

The Mouse's tale

Carroll might have gotten the idea for this mouse tale from the poet Tennyson; he told Carroll that he had had a dream about a lengthy poem about fairies, wich began with very long lines, then the lines got shorter and shorter until the poem ended with fifty or sixty lines of two syllables each. He thought very high of it in his sleep, but completely forgot it when he awoke.(source: Gardner, M., The Annotated Alice, 1998, p.50)
Carroll's original poem was very different from the one what was eventually published.
Fury was the name of a fox terrier, owned by Carroll's child-friend Eveline Hull.
Carroll once proposed an additional change in the poem's final quatrain. The revised stanza would have been:

Said the mouse to the cur. "Such a trial, dear Sir.
With no jury or judge, would be tedious and dry."
"I'll be the jury," said cunning old Fury:
"I'll try the whole cause, and condemn you to die."

(source: Shaberman, R.B. and Denis Crutch, "Under the quizzing Glass")

The Mouse's tale
(Carroll in the original version of the book)
The Mouse's tale
(Carroll in the later version of the book)
We lived beneath the mat,
Warm and snug and fat,
But one woe, and that
Was the Cat!

To our joys a clog,
In our eyes a fog,
On your hearts a log,
Was the Dog!

When the Cat's away,
Then the mice will play,
But alas! one day,
(So they say)

Came the Dog and Cat,
hunting for a Rat,
Crushed the mice all flat,
Each one as he sat,
Underneath the mat,
Warm and snug and fat,
Think of that!
`Fury said to a mouse,
That he met in the house,
"Let us both go to law: I will prosecute YOU.
--Come, I'll take no denial;
We must have a trial:
For really this morning I've nothing to do."
Said the mouse to the cur,
"Such a trial, dear Sir,
With no jury or judge, would be wasting our breath."
"I'll be judge, I'll be jury,"
Said cunning old Fury:
"I'll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death."'


Back to top