Poetry Analysis of “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

Jabberwocky“Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll was originally published in the 1871 novel “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There”. Let’s take a gander at a summary of this nonsense poem and then discuss it through a line-by-line analysis.

Summary

In the book “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There”, Alice finds a book in an unintelligible language. She then realizes that the world she is in is in reverse, so she holds the book up to a mirror. This poem is what the mirrored version. However, she still finds the poem bewildering since many of the words don’t make any sense. Fortunately, Humpty Dumpty explains some of the poem as does Carroll’s notes and personal commentary.

Essentially, at 4:00 P.M. smooth and active badgers were boring holes in the hill-side while unhappy parrots and turtles were squeaking.

The rest of the poem isn’t explained by Humpty Dumpty nor Carroll. However, it is a warning about the Jabberwock, Jubjub bird, and Bandersnatch. But as the boy rested on the tum-tum tree, a Jabberwock came and he killed it. The writer was happy about the Jabberwock’s death, but nothing changed in the place and it continued on as before.

Analysis

Style: Ballad

Format: Seven stanzas with four lines each (quatrains) written in iambic feet.
Theme / Setting: The Wonderland
Tone: Joy / Continuation
Rhyme scheme: ABAB

Line-by-line Analysis and Figurative Language

    • Brillig: 4:00 P.M. Slithy: ‘lithe and slimy’. Toves: something like a badger
    • Gyre: to go around like a gyroscope. Gimble: to make holes like a gimlet. Wabe: the side of a hill.
    • Mimsy: ‘flimsy and miserable’. Borogoves: an extinct kind of Parrot.
    • Mome: home. Raths: a species of land turtle. Outgrabe: something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle.
    • Frumious: “fuming” and “furious”.
    • Vorpal: “verbal” and “gospel”.
    • Manxome: “manly” and “buxom”.
    • Uffish: voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish.
    • Tulgey: dark and gloomy.
    • Burbled: ‘bleat’, ‘murmur’, and ‘warble’.
    • Snicker-snack: related to the sword called snickersnee.
    • Galumphing: ‘gallop’ and ‘triumphant’.
    • Frabjous: fair, fabulous, and joyous.
    • Callooh! Callay!: Words to express happiness.
    • Chortled: A joyous laugh.

Poem: “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

’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.

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia. Get his newest poetry eBook here.