Lewis Carroll Poetry: British Analysis
The name of Lewis Carroll is now almost synonymous with “nonsense.” Carroll did not invent nonsense verse, for it is as old as children’s games and nursery rhymes. With Carroll, however, it grows up and becomes something more than nonsense as that term is usually defined. The term refers to humorous verse that does not make sense, which in turn suggests a kind of nonpoetry, verse with all the surface characteristics of poetry—rhyme, meter, and figures of speech—but without meaning. As the title of Carroll’s Rhyme? and Reason? implies, it is sound gone berserk and completely overtaking sense. Superficially, this definition fits his “Jabberwocky,” which seems to have the authentic ring of a brilliant poem in a foreign language that does not exist. As such nonsense, “Jabberwocky” is a piece of ingenuity but little more. The reader’s appreciation of Carroll’s poetry is far more complex than the term will admit, however, as the enduring popularity of “Jabberwocky” suggests.
The fact that Carroll, a mathematician and logician, felt most alive when playing or inventing games, puzzles, stories, and rhymes with children leads to the uncommon meaning of his nonsense. As his life seems to show (and in an analogy suggested by Kathleen Blake and Carroll critic Richard Kelly), he viewed the world as a vast puzzle that could never be solved but which must be worked to the end, for the sake of the game itself. Through wordplay of all...
(The entire section is 6800 words.)
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