Jan. 21, 2005

The Walrus and the Carpenter

by Lewis Carroll

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Poem: "The Walrus and the Carpenter" by Lewis Carroll, from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872.

The Walrus and the Carpenter

The sun was shining on the sea,
    Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
    The billows smooth and bright—
And this was odd, because it was
    The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
    Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
    After the day was done—
"It's very rude of him," she said,
    "To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
    The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
    No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead—
    There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
    Were walking close at hand:
They wept like anything to see
    Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
    They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
    Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
    "That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
    And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
    The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
    Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
    To give a hand to each."
The eldest Oyster looked at him,
    But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
    And shook his heavy head—
Meaning to say he did not choose
    To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
    All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
    Their shoes were clean and neat—
And this was odd, because, you know,
    They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
    And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
    And more, and more, and more—
All hopping through the frothy waves,
    And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
    Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
    Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
    And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
    "To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
    Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
    And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
    "Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
    And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
    They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
    "Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
    Are very good indeed—
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
    We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
    Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
    A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
    "Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
    And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
    "Cut us another slice.
I wish you were not quite so deaf—
    I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
    "To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
    And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
    "The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
    "I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
    Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
    Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
    "You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?"
    But answer came there none—
And this was scarcely odd, because
    They'd eaten every one.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of blues singer and songwriter Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter (sometimes noted as January 20 or January 29), born in Mooringsport, Louisiana (1888). He's best known for his songs "Goodnight Irene," "Midnight Special," and "Rock Island Line" and for his skill in playing 12-string guitar. Ledbetter spent his early years working in the fields of the South, but he knew how to play several instruments by the age of 15. The nickname "Lead Belly" came from his deep bass voice. By the end of his career, Ledbetter claimed to have written over 500 songs.

It's the birthday of critic Louis Menand, born in Syracuse, New York (1952). He is one of the few people who works as both a full-time professor and as a journalist. He teaches English at City University of New York, and he's also a contributing editor to the New York Review of Books, a staff writer for the New Yorker, and a contributor to many other publications. He said, "I don't think of there being any division between my academic career and my career in journalism. To me, I'm just a writer... and it happens that some of my interests are relatively scholarly and some are not."

After graduating from college, Menand enrolled in Harvard Law School, but he was unhappy there and took a leave of absence after his first year. He applied to both the School of Journalism and the doctoral program in English at Columbia University. He was accepted by both programs, so he went to discuss it with the dean of the journalism school. The dean asked him, "What kind of writing do you want to do?" Menand answered, "I want to write for the New Yorker." The dean said, "You don't need journalism school for that." So Menand went on to get his PhD in English instead.

Menand has written essays on everything from the Beatles to Stanley Kubrick to Toni Morrison. One of his most famous books is The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (2001), which describes the historical philosophy behind modern liberalism. He said, "Literature is being taught as though it were only political medicine or political poison—a view that is not only illiberal but illiterate."

Menand began his work as an editor for the New Republic when he was turned down for tenure at Princeton. He received a phone call in his office one day asking if he'd replace an editor who was going on leave. He agreed immediately. He said it was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him. Menand's office is across the street from the Empire State Building. His friends call him Luke.

Menand wrote, "There are limits, after all, to the idea of limits."

It's the birthday of novelist Guy Gilpatric, born in New York City, New York (1896). He's best known for his tales about Muster Colin Glencannon, chief engineer of the S.S. Inchcliffe Castle. He introduced the character in Scotch and Water (1931) and his work appeared regularly in the Saturday Evening Post.

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