13 July 2015


Nonsense and Some Sense Verse Smackdown, Round 4
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2, the Musical Intermission, Round 3A, and Round 3B)

It's always a pleasure to get to the finals, aye? =D And for me, also a relief. =)

Before I wrote the posts for the Funny Four, keeping my mind as open as possible about who might move on to the next round, I tried to find two strong poems from each of them: one for the posts I was about to write and a second in case I picked them to move on. I did this because I didn't want to declare a writer a winner just because I knew his oeuvre better. And as I learned more and more about the Funny Four, I found myself setting aside more and more poems--because there were six possible pairings, and therefore, six potential posts. It was clear that Carroll/Nash face-off would be very different from a Belloc/Richards face-off, since the contenders must complement each other in a dance as well as slug it out in a fight. And though I think I've made the right decision for the end of this smackdown, I'm still a little sad about the Ogden Nash vs. Laura E. Richards draft that will now never see the light of day.

Leave it to me to start the most exciting part of the smackdown on a bittersweet note! I think all our writers had a good run; and if I could invite them all to dinner, I'm sure there would be no hard feelings. But before I start planning the menu, we have to know which writer will take the seat of honour . . .

Lewis Carroll vs. Hilaire Belloc

For me, the quintessential Lewis Carroll poem is his Jabberwocky, which is made up of mostly nonsense words and still manages to tell an intelligible story. (For my graduate students: 2,000 words, please, comparing it to Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange.) If it's slightly more comprehensible to us today than to Carroll's fellow Victorians, that is because two of those nonsense words have entered common usage since then: if I remember correctly, they are "galumphing" and "chortle." Such was his talent with words that he totally made them up and we all still knew what they meant. In interesting contrast, Hilaire Belloc's Tarantella is not one of his typical poems. I remember being bowled over in uni, about a year after "discovering" Belloc, to learn that he had written the rolling, rhyming, rippling, rhythmic Tarentella that I had had to learn in high school. For there are no "bad children" here, the "beasts" are shunted off to the background, and it is less a jolly drinking song than a mad dancing song. It is a poem that exists for its own sake--and the love of words, sound, and scan.

Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark verandah)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteeers
Who hadn't got a penny,
And who weren't paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the Din?
And the Hip! Hop! Hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the twirl and the swirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of a clapper to the spin
Out and in--
And the Ting, Tong, Tang, of the Guitar.
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?

Never more;
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar:
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the Halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground
No sound:
But the boom
Of the far Waterfall like Doom.
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought--
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

And now the power to decide the winner is back in your hands! Leave a comment before next Monday telling me which writer you think should take home the victory!

Remember that the smackdown winner and the Philippine Literature Giveaway are always announced in the same post. After you vote, remember to collect your last entry from the Rafflecopter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

PS -- If you're wondering why Carroll got to go first here, when Belloc is first alphabetically, well, it's because I was so used to Carroll going first that I wrote their face-off paragraph accordingly . . . and didn't want to change it even after I had noticed my "mistake." But mistakes are less mistakes than surprises anyway, right? =D

Image Sources: a) Lewis Carroll, b) Hilaire Belloc


Paul Stilwell said...

Belloc! Belloc is my vote. And that has nothing to do with blind ChesterBelloc devotion. There would definitely be instances in which I would vote Carroll over Belloc (or Chesterton), but I love the waking sense of the waterfall and mountains he evokes by contrast with the Inn at night. Classic Belloc.

Enbrethiliel said...


Stilwell, I am so impressed that you saw the post and were able to comment before I had published it! Or had I hit "Publish" by mistake, when I thought I was just previewing? (That would be typical, aye?) Anyway, thanks for your vote! Since you write poetry yourself, I am sure that you chose Belloc with your eyes wide open. =)

cyurkanin said...

Though I do find the Belloc piece refreshing and almost "Poe-etic" (pun intended), the vorpal sword gets me every time. Count me as a vote for Carroll.

mrsdarwin said...

I do like the Tarantella, but it has to be Carroll all the way. Jabberwocky has transcended itself; it has achieved "thingness"; it is no longer just a poem but a literary phenomenon. O frabjous day.

Speaking of made-up words that already have meaning, I once read a minor novel in which a busty starlet was named Slithy Toves, and it had just the right ring of salaciousness about it. "...The slithy toves/ did gyre and gimble in the wabe" -- if you know what I mean...

For your consideration: I am taking this moment to lodge a complaint about the commenting system, and to beg you to allow, if possible, comments without the commenter having to log in through some other platform. I keep losing mine because I have to go through a dance of logging out of our gmail and logging in again as MrsDarwin. This is, I know, a peril of shared computer, and probably a problem unique to me among your blog readers, but: pretty please?

Enbrethiliel said...


Do you mean allowing anonymous comments, Mrs. Darwin? I don't seem to attract trolls and I think captcha is off-putting enough. I can make a change for a long-time commenter and friend. =)

Brandon said...

Tough one! I have gone back and forth several times on this. But I think I come over to Carroll a bit more often than I do to Belloc: so Carroll.

Sheila said...

The Belloc one reminds me of Poe's "The Bells." But I have to choose Carroll. I've had that poem by heart since I was at most eight. One of my favorite poems of all time, certainly my favorite to recite at parties.

mrsdarwin said...

E, you are too kind, especially when I'm such an erstwhile commenter over the summer.

cyurkanin said...

Interesting observation, Sheila, why does it remind you of The Bells? I'd mentioned Poe merely because it's repetition of an empty imagery and of his use of "never more"