Step #2 — Jabberwocky

Posted on: March 16th, 2012 by

Step #2 in our Poetry in Performance Process

Let us examine “Jabberwocky”, looking at its blue-print or structure, how it changes from beginning to end, the details or words that add to its progress, and the story the poem presents as it develops.

We will be careful during this initial step to avoid connotative interpretations. In other words, we will focus only on the poem’s surface appearance and the world it inspires within us.

Begin by imagining that you are in the poem “Jabberwocky.”

You are not an addition to the poem; you are the poem’s consciousness, its being, its persona.

You are where that persona is

As you step into “Jabberwocky”, it is crucial to remember first impressions.

Stanza 1

Where are you?  {Where are you not?}

Like the Alice in Alice in Wonderland, you are in a world that bewilders, full of strange, if partially familiar, sounds, which are seemingly uttered with intent and meaning, but whose meaning befuddles.

Some sounds are known: an “and” and a “the” and a “were” and a “did”.  You might also recognize “‘Twas” as meaning “It was”.  But all the other sounds are colorful, full of pop and jazz, but whose vowels and consonants do not provoke a certain image in your head.

So the stanza reads like this:

‘Twas ____, and the ____ ____
Did ____ and _____ in the ____:
All ____ were the ________,
And the ____ _____ _______.

So the syntax is coherent and the verbs are clear; only the objects lack definition.

When I step into this first stanza, I feel somewhat like I did in Mexico when I didn’t know any Spanish.  People seemed like they were making sense, but I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.

Stanza 2

The 2nd stanza moves you out of the realm of utter bewilderment, leaving you feeling not quite so lost; it does, however, makes you much more frightened.  It is important to note the quotation marks around this stanza because they indicate there is a voice speaking to you, not about you.

“Beware” is a word you understand quite well, and it puts you on alert.  You also understand the phrase “my son”, which gives the voice’s warning the authority of a father-figure.  Even the “Jabberwocky” that threatens you, though unidentifiable as a creature, sounds oddly familiar since almost all of us have at one time or another been jabbered at by some obnoxious person.

The second line of the stanza could not be more clear, however, and leaves you feeling like you are something that’s about to be grabbed and eaten.

The third and forth lines re-enforce the warning by repeating the “beware”.  The lines also increase the sense of danger by increasing the threat.  Not only is the Jabberwock to be feared, but also the “JubJub bird” and it is also important for you to shun the “frumious Bandersnatch”.  The only aspect of the poem that remains bewildering are those three creatures that threaten you.  They are unknown.

Stanza 3

This stanza continues the overall clarity of the poetic world in which you now reside.

The fatherly voice has stopped speaking to you; now, a narrator describes the actions taken by the poem’s persona.

In the face of the warning you have just received, you do not shrink in fear but go forward into conflict.  You take up a sword, though you are not certain what kind (“vorpal”) of sword it is.  You seek the foe for a long time, though you are not certain what kind of foe (“manxome”) you are looking for.  And, after a time, you stop by a particular kind of tree (Tumtum) to rest and think.

Stanza 4

In the 4th stanza the enemy you have sought, finds you instead.  There are only two words that are incoherent and both refer to place or location.  The “tulgey” wood refers to the place which the Jabberwock travels through to find you.  The other word, “uffish”, refers to the kind of thought in which you stand when the Jabberwock finds you.

The Jabberwocky that appears must surely be a strange creature.  On the one hand, “with eyes of flame” leaves the impression that this foe is dragon-like and dangerous.  On the other hand, it “whiffles” and “burbles“; which are not threatening sounds, but rather the noises made by little puffs and bubbles.

Stanza 5

Stanza 5  describes the battle between you and the Jabberwock, focusing precisely upon the actions of the vorpal blade.

The first line is all action, with the “One two, One two” of the blade being decidedly faster that the Jabberwock’s whiffling and burbling.  The use of the word “snicker-snack” to describe the results of the blade’s fast action combines the image of a covert laugh with that of a light meal, which is contrary to what one might expect to be the results of a fast moving sword.

The third line does not leave any doubt about the result: the Jabberwock is dead and you are holding its severed head.  You will carry it home as proof of victory.

The fact that you will “galumph” back reveals something about the poem that its author could not have known. Although galumph now has meaning; when the poem was published, it did not.

Stanza 6

This stanza returns you to the presence of the father, presumably with the Jabberwock’s head in hand.  The father does not see the head, however, because he asks you if you succeeded in killing the creature.

Your verbal response is not provided, so one might assume that you raise the head for the father to see, “beaming” as you do.  The father immediately calls you to his arms. celebrating wildly as he does.  The sounds of exuberance are exactly that–sounds that lack specific meaning but that are filled with the joy of victory.

Stanza 7

In stanza 7 you are returned to the very same world in which the poem began.  In other words, despite your victory over the Jabberwock, the world at “brillig” has not been changed.  It is still a world inhabited by the very same creatures and things, which are still undefinable and mysterious.


Step 3