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The Lobster Quadrille by Lewis Carroll

I promised you, when I began my month of poetry posts, that I'd be moving from poem to poem, and that the poems would somehow be interrelated. And I grant you that the relationship between T.S. Eliot and Lewis Carroll is tenuous, and that the connection between "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Lobster Quadrille" is not immediately apparent. But allow me to explain myself. See, when I was looking at "Prufrock" again, trying to sort out what lines or themes really spoke to me, a few things popped out. Not the usual favorites ("the mermaids singing, each to each", the yellow fog in its cat-like state, or "I grow old . . . I grow old . . . /I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled"), but the oft-repeated line, "Let us go then, you and I". And I got to thinking about that line, and suddenly, in my head, popped the chorus of "The Lobster Quadrille", which sums up much of what poor Prufrock is going on about: "Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?" Et voilà.

The Lobster Quadrille
by Lewis Carroll

"Will you walk a little faster?" said a whiting to a snail.
"There's a porpoise close behind us, and he's treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle - will you come and join the dance?
    Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?
    Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?

"You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!"
But the snail replied "Too far, too far!" and gave a look askance -
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.
  Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.
  Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.

"What matters it how far we go?" his scaly friend replied.
"There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
The further off from England the nearer is to France -
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.
  Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, will you join the dance?
  Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, won't you join the dance?"

I promise you faithfully that I did not re-read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland all that many times, yet the poems and songs from it (and from Through the Looking Glass) turn up again and again. I am convinced that this is because Carroll is such a master when it comes to wordplay and to metre. His poems tend to stick the way music sticks, in part because of his clever use of repetition, rhythm and rhyme.

As for "The Lobster Quadrille", some say it's a parody of "The Spider and the Fly" by Mary Howitt, which begins "'Will you come into my parlor?' said the spider to the fly." It's not actually a parody, although it borrows the metre, and the first lines are related. Why? There was a well-known tune at the time for "The Spider and the Fly", and it was a cue to folks who knew the tune to sing "The Lobster Quadrille" to the same tune, which would have made the Quadrille catchier still. (You can find a version of "The Spider and the Fly" sung by Robin Hendrix at various internet sources, and can hear snippets of what that song sounded like.)

The lines of the stanzas for the verse are written in fourteeners (although in the first stanza, there's an additional beat in the first two lines), each line having four stressed syllables (which would fall on the beat in 4/4 or "common" time, and each line beginning with a pickup of either an 8th note (1 beat) or 2 16th notes (2 syllables)). The poem is exceptionally musical, and is written in rhymed couplets. Each verse includes a chorus, with a variant of the chorus for the middle stanza.

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( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 16th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
I like the anecdote about Queen Victoria and Lewis Carroll. She so enjoyed Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that she asked him to dedicate his next book to her.

He did. It was a math textbook.
She was not amused.
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:28 am (UTC)
Ha! I hadn't heard that one. But now I'm inclined to walk about saying "We are not amused."
Apr. 16th, 2009 04:57 am (UTC)
i love hearing this sung. i love hearing this sung by gene wilder. now i feel as if i have to track down a copy of the film where this is sung by gene wilder.
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:31 am (UTC)
I confess to not having seen that production of Alice.
Apr. 16th, 2009 05:00 am (UTC)
sigh, thanks to youtube i don't have to seek far or wide ...

Apr. 16th, 2009 11:32 am (UTC)
I believe that's a different tune than the "traditional" one sung by Ms. Hendrix, but I could be mistaken. *wonders whether it will be in the new Alice movie in production, and, if so, what tune will be used*
Apr. 16th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
given that it's tim burton and danny elfman will most likely score it--something between the simpsons theme and "march of the dead" from army of darkness. :) it'll probably come closer than the version that marilyn manson wants to do ...
Apr. 16th, 2009 01:18 pm (UTC)
I love this!! Always makes me smile :).
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC)
Me too.
Apr. 16th, 2009 08:45 pm (UTC)
Like Jama, this one always makes me smile. How can it not?
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC)
Exactly my thinking!
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 16th, 2009 11:51 pm (UTC)
Funny what an understanding of geography can do for you . . . to say nothing of a sense of perspective.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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