World Poetry Day with Jack Prelutsky and Lewis Carroll

Today is World Poetry Day and I wasn’t going to post something, but I’ve been inspired by Allvce over at What I Like…& Why You Should Too who posted her favourite Emily Dickinson poem on her Facebook page so I’ve decided to share with you two of my favourite poems. I don’t read a lot of poetry so I am sure there are much grander poems out there, but these are the ones I love.

The first is Today is Very Boring by Jack Prelutsky. I first heard this poem in a 1997 episode of Arthur. In the episode called “I’m A Poet“, Fern challenges everyone to enter a poetry contest judged by poet Jack Prelutsky, and anyone who doesn’t win has to join the Poetry Club for a whole year. Being 9 I hadn’t heard of Jack Prelutsky, being 9 I couldn’t pronounce Jack Prelutsky, but I loved his poem. I can’t find the full episode but here is the clip of him reading the poem on Arthur. Arthur often has famous people on the show, Neil Gaiman was there (who could forget the grand line “Neil Gaiman what are you doing in my falafel), as well Art Garfunkel and many others (check out the buzzfeed list), but I always remembered this poem from Prelutsky, even if I have never looked up any more of his work since, may need to change that.

Today is very boring.

it’s a very boring day,
there is nothing to much to look at,
there is nothing much to say,
there’s a peacock on my sneakers,
there’s a penguin on my head,
there’s a dormouse on my doorstep,
I am going back to bed.

 Today is very boring,
it is boring through and through,
there is absolutely nothing
that I think I want to do,
I see giants riding rhinos,
and an ogre with a sword,
there’s a dragon blowing smoke rings,
I am positively bored.

 Today is very boring,
I can hardly help but yawn,
there’s a flying saucer landing
in the middle of my lawn,
a volcano just erupted
less than half a mile away,
and I think I felt an earthquake,
it’s a very boring day.

My favourite favourite poem has to be The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll. I mentioned in my Through the Looking Glass review that I fell in love with this through the Harriet the Spy movie as a kid and I have only grown to love it more and more.

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright–
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done–
“It’s very rude of him,” she said,
“To come and spoil the fun!”

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead–
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
“If this were only cleared away,”
They said, “it would be grand!”

“If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose,” the Walrus said,
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it,” said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

“O Oysters, come and walk with us!”
The Walrus did beseech.
“A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.”

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head–
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat–
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more–
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

“But wait a bit,” the Oysters cried,
“Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!”
“No hurry!” said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed–
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”

“But not on us!” the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
“After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!”
“The night is fine,” the Walrus said.
“Do you admire the view?

“It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf–
I’ve had to ask you twice!”

“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”

“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.

So they’re my favourite poems, enjoy World Poetry Day and read something spectacular!

Through the Looking-Glass (#2) by Lewis Carroll

Published: June 25th 1998
Goodreads badgePublisher: Oxford University Press
Pages: 133
Format: Book
Genre: Fantasy/Literature
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Nothing is quite what it seems once Alice journeys through the looking-glass, and Dodgson’s wit is infectious as he explores concepts of mirror imagery, time running backward, and strategies of chess-all wrapped up in the exploits of a spirited young girl who parries with the Red Queen, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and other unlikely characters.

Since we did Wonderland of course we had to do the sequel. I do not really have any preference between the two, there are favourite moments in both. I think the problem is Wonderland is much more well known, and the parts that  have been borrowed from Looking-Glass are mistaken for being in Wonderland which is a shame. This second Alice book is set a few years after the Wonderland adventures; Alice looks older and Dinah has grown and has kittens of her own. Through the Looking-Glass takes Alice into another strange land that begins when she walks through the mirror into Looking-glass House.

Unlike Wonderland there is a lot more structure to the world.
The absurdities and irrationalities remain, but the land is set out like a chess board, and the characters Alice meets are players on the board. When Alice meets the Red Queen she gives Alice and the readers a summary of what is going to happen through the rest of the book. Since the world is divided into squares she tells us that at the Seventh Square Alice will meet the Knight, and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum at the fourth. You do tend to forget that it is a chess game as you read but the rules of the game are woven throughout. Alice is given the position of the pawn and therefore is only allowed one square at a time. The goal, like chess, is to get to the other side unharmed.

The way Carroll has constructed the Looking-Glass world is amazing and there has been a lot of thought put into this to replicate the game. This book also has one of my all time favourite poems in it: The Walrus and the Carpenter. I first fell in love with this poem from watching Harriet the Spy of all things, and I often wondered how you could have ceiling wax, and what it actually was. That is until I learned about sealing wax that was used in letter writing. It made slightly more sense, but in terms of the poem not a whole lot changed. There is the Jabberwocky poem, but the best has to be the Walrus and the Carpenter. Carroll weaves these poems though the novel, just as he did in Alice in Wonderland, and once again accompanies them with stunning black and white drawings.

This new land does confuse Alice a bit more in certain areas but she recovers well. There are a lot of familiar characters such as the talking flowers, Tweedle Dee and Dum of course, and a few others that are less well known but very funny indeed. The ending is once again instantly devoid of any mystery. I think Carroll likes to demonstrate that imagination of a child rather than give us a wonderful world that could be true or could not be. He does not leave anything unclear. However there is a moment with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum where they remark whether Alice is within the dream of the sleeping Red King or whether he is in her dream. That is as far as the analysis of the world gets.

I do think if you are going to read Wonderland you have to read this as well. If you came to these book as a fan of a movie – even the Disney one, it will be good because a lot of book two was used in the Disney film and some of one character’s attributes were transferred to other people; you may find your favourite character was not actually who you thought. If not for that reason than simply because it is a strange and peculiar book that somehow manages to make a lot of sense while still being strange but very enjoyable. If you love the absurd than this will be great, but it is not so bad as to cause any confusion, Carroll does restrain himself in that sense.

Alice in Wonderland (#1) by Lewis Carroll

Published: June 25th 1998
Goodreads badgePublisher: Oxford University Press
Pages: 111
Format: Book
Genre: Fantasy/Literature
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Journey with Alice down the rabbit hole into a world of wonder where oddities, logic and wordplay rule supreme. Encounter characters like the grinning Cheshire Cat who can vanish into thin air, the cryptic Mad Hatter who speaks in riddles and the harrowing Queen of Hearts obsessed with the phrase “Off with their heads!” This is a land where rules have no boundaries, eating mushrooms will make you grow or shrink, croquet is played with flamingos and hedgehogs, and exorbitant trials are held for the theft of tarts. Amidst these absurdities, Alice will have to find her own way home. 

In recognition of Lewis Carroll turning 181 last month I feel a review is in order of the glorious Alice in Wonderland. I know this is a book that has been turned into so many movies and television shows (41 at last count according to Wikipedia), but the only one I see as being even remotely similar (that I have seen) is the Hallmark telemovie Alice in Wonderland starring Tina Majorino as Alice with a host of stars including Gene Wilder, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Lloyd and so many more.

When I studied this book at Uni I discovered that Carroll based Alice on someone he knew; much the same way J.M Barrie did for Peter Pan. Alice Liddell was the 10 year old sister of a friend of Carroll’s and he’d became a good friend to the family. He liked her a lot and he told the story of Alice in Wonderland (then Alice’s Adventures Underground) for her and her sisters. I found this website that gives a nice history about the book which is really quite interesting, and I think it would be much better than me telling you because I would become distracted in the fascinating history and not review the actual book. Plus trying to remember a university class almost five years ago may not do it justice. The edition of my book actually has a long introduction that tells the story, but it is not really necessary whatsoever to know.

I always loved this story, and when I read it growing up I liked the absurd nature of it. I am certain I did not understand half of the things I did as I got older, which personally I think is half the fun. There is a quote by Clifton Fadiman that states When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before. . Whether it is about the book or yourself it doesn’t matter, I think learning something about yourself each time you reread something is just as wonderful. You can see how you have changed since the last time, in one of those small ways that you don’t notice until your attention is brought to it.

Carroll has written this book in the style that a young girl would, she is trying to remember all the proper etiquette she has be taught but she also thinks like a young girl which then reflects in her actions. The story opens with Alice being bored by her circumstance and her sister’s inability to read anything interesting that has pictures and dialogue. What I do remember discovering upon one of my later readings was that there is also a brother, so while I knew there was the older sister no one remembers she had a brother as well. Again, not important but still rather interesting.

As the narrator Carroll speaks to the readers on the odd occasion, especially during the rabbit hole sequence. He addresses readers as Alice falls which works well when you are reading to yourself but also lends itself to the fact it was initially an oral story. Everything Carroll describes does not seem as outrageous as it actually is; when he writes about growing larger, rabbits in waistcoats and singing griffins it seems perfectly natural. There is an accepted reality that Wonderland brings that is so absurd around every corner that you don’t question it. If there had been more real world similarities I think the absurd ones would stand out a lot more.

Aside from all the strangeness in this book the most strange is watching as this young girl eats and drinks everything she finds. Though one of my favourite quotes is “if you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.” Something in the matter of fact way Alice approaches this world is part of the joy I think. She is very understanding and accepting of her circumstances, she is driven by her curiosities more than anything which explains away a few things, the need to know outweighs thinking about consequences. This comes more from her being such a young child than anything else I think, and perhaps in part who she is a person. She does have faltering moments where she struggles to remember who she was, as she recites the lessons and what she knows Alice attempts to assure herself she is who she thinks she is. So in that respect Wonderland does begin to affect her.

Two of my favourite characters and scenes have to have been the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon. There is nothing in that scene I love more than the other; it is funny, clever, sweet all at the same time. What is great about Carroll, like Dahl, is that there are songs and poems within the story. The songs the Mock Turtle and Gryphon sing are beautiful and a lot of fun. In terms of creating characters Carroll is an expert at creating varied and unique figures that contrast Alice well, and also manage to suit the Wonderland world ideally without making them generic and all the same. He starts us off simply with a rabbit in a waistcoat and then slowly drags us further from the world we know until we reach the Queen of Hearts who is playing croquette with flamingos. In between we get mad tea parties, caucus races and not enough pepper, all of which makes it a joyful and amusing journey.

Each character offers a lot of wisdom to Alice as she passes through Wonderland. The Duchess, the King, the Cheshire Cat are just some of the many who offer strange and seemingly confusing advice that is somehow profound in their own ways. The irony is of course that Alice offers no moral to readers, it is simply a tale of wonder and adventure. The Duchess herself says that ‘Every thing’s got a moral, if only you can find it.’ That is why this book is so great, there is no need for morals, it is what it is and what it is is a strange mix of absurdity and nonsensical actions that make up a bizarre series of events. Why read any deeper meaning into it and spoil the fun?

The ending I know has caused some issues to some people but I don’t really mind it. I think there is nothing wrong with how Carroll has finished the book. There is a sense that it is open to interpretation but I also think that it depends on who you look at: Alice or her sister. Since the sister was not there and has the rational mind of someone who reads books without pictures and dialogue, perhaps she is trying to justify Alice’s story, unable to believe it is true. It is something I think you have to make up your own mind about when you read it for it is the only way you’ll know.