The Hunting of the Snark "What I Tell You Three Times Is True"

Lewis Carroll

"What I Tell You Three Times Is True"

Context: English literature has few writers of nonsense verse. Besides Edward Lear (1812–1888), known for his Book of Nonsense (1846) and others, the only writer who comes to mind is a minister and professor of mathematics of Oxford University, the Reverend Charles Dodgson, who alternated textbooks and such tomes as Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879) with delightful books for children, like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), where he concealed his identity behind the pen name of Lewis Carroll. Another such book was The Hunting of the Snark, An Agony in Eight Fits. A crew under the command of a Bellman or town crier, sails with a crew consisting of a Barrister, a Bonnet maker, a Broker, a Banker, a Butcher, a Beaver, a Boots or shoeshine boy, and others. Their map shows only a shoreless ocean, without equator, zones, or meridians, which to the captain are "merely conventional signs." The Bellman furnishes characteristics to help identify a snark: its taste, its lack of humor, its ambition, and "Its habit of getting up late, you'll agree/ That it carries too far, when I say/ That it frequently breakfasts at five o'clock tea/ And dines on the following day." The author never describes the creature. Perhaps its name is one of his "portmanteau words" that pack two meanings, as "fuming" and "furious" became to him "frumious." Perhaps it is a snake (sea serpent) and a shark. Certainly the Bellman knows what he is looking for.

"Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.
"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice;
That alone should encourage the crew.
"Just the place for a Snark!–I have said it thrice;
What I tell you three times is true."