kellyrfineman (kellyrfineman) wrote,

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A time to laugh, a time to cry (a Poetry Friday post)

A time to mimic, a time to make fun of. Welcome to a discussion on the parody poem.

I'm going to go ahead and assume that you are at least passingly familiar with the stories of Alice in Wonderland and/or Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll. (Pause for a very brief bio: Lewis Carroll was really named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an Anglican clergyman who taught at Oxford and helped in the early formation of the Oxford English Dictionary. There's been speculation that he had more than a passing interest in naked children, and a very specific interest in a friend's young daughter, named Alice, whose mother cut off all contact between Alice and Charles/Lewis when Alice was eleven. But I digress.)

Carroll didn't come up with all of his poems and/or songs out of thin air. While it would appear that the "nonsense poem" known as the Jabberwocky was an exercise in conveying meaning without using recognizable words, many of the poems found in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland were parodies of what were at the time widely known poems by others.

For example, "Twinkle, twinkle little bat" is a parody of "twinkle, twinkle little star." "How doth the little crocodile" is a parody of "How doth the little busy bee" by Isaac Watts. The words of the Lobster Quadrille, which begins "'Will you walk a little faster?' said a whiting to a snail" are a parody of "The Spider and the Fly" by Mary Botham Howitt. And so forth, and so on. But my favorite may be Carroll's "You are Old Father William", which Alice recites in order to appease the Caterpillar she meets in chapter five. What she meant to be reciting was "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them" by Robert Southey, a widely recited poem at the time.

Minor confession: Part of the reason I like Carroll's poem is because I had to sing it (twice) whilst in high school choruses. And so I learned it by heart, and can still recite parts of it.

The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them
by Robert Southey

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth would fly fast,
And abus'd not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And life must be hast'ning away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"I am cheerful, young man," father William replied,
"Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember'd my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age"

You are Old Father William
by Lewis Carroll

"You are old, father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head--
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, "as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door--
Pray what is the reason of that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment--one shilling the box--
Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are to weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak--
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose--
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said the father. "Don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!"

Once Alice completes her recitation, the Caterpillar points out that she completely botched the poem.

'That is not said right,' said the Caterpillar.

'Not QUITE right, I'm afraid,' said Alice, timidly; 'some of the words have got altered.'

'It is wrong from beginning to end,' said the Caterpillar decidedly, and there was silence for some minutes.

For a more recent (and quite entertaining) parody poem, check out Beth Gylys's "Do Not Dive Head-First", a parody of Dylan Thomas's villanelle, "Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night".

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Tags: carroll, parody, parody poems, poems, poetry friday, southey

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