Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

“Jabberwocky,” the central poem in Through the Looking-Glass, is typically categorized as a non- sense poem. It has, however, been taken seriously by writers, as well as by scholars of literature, logic, and language. For example, the portmanteaus in “Jabberwocky” are a primary element of composition adopted by the Irish writer James Joyce for his modernist novel Finnegans Wake. Indeed, Martin Gardner draws a compelling parallel between the poem and the abstraction of the modernist painting of Picasso; however, his conclusion that Carroll is concerned with the sound of words over the sense of words indicates a lighthearted play that many logicians and linguists would deny. What Patricia Meyer Spacks says about the seriousness of Through the Looking-Glass is typically categorized as a nonsense poem. It is specifically true of “Jabberwocky”: that Carroll’s singular gift is the ease with which he conceals the significance of the logic of his work, so that the amusing wordplay is simultaneously its profound logical center.

Carroll was himself a philosopher and logician. The prevailing opinion, nevertheless, is that his best logic appears in the Alice books. As the English critic Edmund Wilson has noted, the poetry and logic in Carroll’s work are inextricably linked. Roger W. Holmes points out, further, that Carroll not only explores the very history of the English language in the nonsense word constructions of...

(The entire section is 513 words.)