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Jabberwocky

Jabberwocky

by Lewis Carroll

Special Note on Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

There is one documented explanation of this first stanza by Carroll himself. He gives us a summary through the character of Humpty-Dumpty (yup, the one who fell off the wall) in Through the Looking-Glass. For what it's worth (after all, nothing is entirely reliable in Carroll's Wonderland), we present to you a summary of the first stanza vocabulary according to Humpty:

  • Brillig: four o' clock in the afternoon, because that's when you start broiling things for dinner
  • Slithy: lithe and slimy
  • Toves: "something like badgers, something like lizards, and something like corkscrews" (125)
  • Gyre and gimble: to gyre is to go around like a gyroscope, and gimble is to make holes in something
  • Wabe: the grass plot surrounding a sun-dial (so named because it goes a ways in each direction)
  • Mimsy: combination (called a portmanteau) of flimsy and miserable
  • Borogoves: a "thin, shabby-looking bird" that resembles a mop
  • Mome raths: "well, a rath is a sort of green pig, but mome I'm not sure about, I think it's short for 'from home' – meaning they'd lost their way, you know" (126)
  • Outgrabe: a combination of whistling and bellowing with a sneeze in the middle (apparently the present tense of this verb is outgribe, meaning outgrabe is past tense, a little like give and gave).

So ends our Special Note. Look in "Best of the Web" for the link to the book on Google Books, as well as the page references for both the poem itself in the larger work and for this egg-headed explanation. Also keep in mind that you should feel free to define these words in a way that makes sense to you and your reading of the poem. You don't have to take Humpty's definitions at face value. Part of the fun of "Jabberwocky" is that you can play with the words.

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