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an Agony in Eight Fits


Lewis Carroll


If-and the thing is wildly possible-the charge of writing nonsense
were ever brought against the author of this brief but instructive
poemit would be basedI feel convincedon the line (in p.4)

Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes.

In view of this painful possibilityI will not (as I might) appeal
indignantly to my other writings as a proof that I am incapable of
such a deed: I will not (as I might) point to the strong moral purpose
of this poem itselfto the arithmetical principles so cautiously
inculcated in itor to its noble teachings in Natural History--I will
take the more prosaic course of simply explaining how it happened.

The Bellmanwho was almost morbidly sensitive about appearances
used to have the bowsprit unshipped once or twice a week to be revarnished
and it more than once happenedwhen the time came for replacing itthat
no one on board could remember which end of the ship it belonged to.
They knew it was not of the slightest use to appeal to the Bellman about it-he
would only refer to his Naval Codeand read out in pathetic tones
Admiralty Instructions which none of them had ever been able to understand-so
it generally ended in its being fastened onanyhowacross the rudder.
The helmsman used to stand by with tears in his eyes; he knew it was all wrong
but alas! Rule 42 of the CodeNo one shall speak to the Man at the Helm,
had been completed by the Bellman himself with the words "and the Man at the
Helm shall speak to no one." So remonstrance was impossibleand no steering
could be done till the next varnishing day. During these bewildering intervals
the ship usually sailed backwards.

As this poem is to some extent connected with the lay of the Jabberwock
let me take this opportunity of answering a question that has often been asked
mehow to pronounce "slithy toves." The "i" in "slithy" is longas in
writhe; and "toves" is pronounced so as to rhyme with "groves." Againthe
first "o" in "borogoves" is pronounced like the "o" in "borrow." I have heard
people try to give it the sound of the "o" in "worry. Such is Human

This also seems a fitting occasion to notice the other hard works in that
poem. Humpty-Dumpty's theoryof two meanings packed into one word like a
portmanteauseems to me the right explanation for all.

For instancetake the two words "fuming" and "furious." Make up your
mind that you will say both wordsbut leave it unsettled which you will say
first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so
little towards "fuming you will say fuming-furious;" if they turnby even
a hair's breadthtowards "furious you will say furious-fuming;" but if you
have the rarest of giftsa perfectly balanced mindyou will say "frumious."

Supposing thatwhen Pistol uttered the well-known words-

Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or die!

Justice Shallow had felt certain that it was either William or Richardbut
had not been able to settle whichso that he could not possibly say either
name before the othercan it be doubted thatrather than diehe would have
gasped out "Rilchiam!"

Fit the First


Just the place for a Snark!the Bellman cried
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What i tell you three times is true.

The crew was complete: it included a Boots-A
maker of Bonnets and Hoods-A
Barristerbrought to arrange their disputes-And
a Brokerto value their goods.

A Billiard-makerwhose skill was immense
Might perhaps have won more than his share--
But a Bankerengaged at enormous expense
Had the whole of their cash in his care.

There was also a Beaverthat paced on the deck
Or would sit making lace in the bow:
And had often (the Bellman said) saved them from wreck
Though none of the sailors knew how.

There was one who was famed for the number of things
He forgot when he entered the ship:
His umbrellahis watchall his jewels and rings
And the clothes he had bought for the trip.

He had forty-two boxesall carefully packed
With his name painted clearly on each:
Butsince he omitted to mention the fact
They were all left behind on the beach.

The loss of his clothes hardly matteredbecause
He had seven coats on when he came
With three pairs of boots--but the worst of it was
He had wholly forgotten his name.

He would answer to "Hi!" or to any loud cry
Such as "Fry me!" or "Fritter my wig!"
To "What-you-may-call-um!" or "What-was-his-name!"
But especially "Thing-um-a-jig!"

Whilefor those who preferred a more forcible word
He had different names from these:
His intimate friends called him "Candle-ends

And his enemies Toasted-cheese."

His form is ungainly--his intellect small--
(So the Bellman would often remark)

But his courage is perfect! And that, after all,
Is the thing that one needs with a Snark.

He would joke with hyenasreturning their stare
With an impudent wag of the head:

And he once went a walkpaw-in-pawwith a bear
Just to keep up its spirits,he said.

He came as a Baker: but ownedwhen too late-And
it drove the poor Bellman half-mad--

He could only bake Bridecake--for whichI may state
No materials were to be had.

The last of the crew needs especial remark
Though he looked an incredible dunce:

He had just one idea--butthat one being "Snark
The good Bellman engaged him at once.

He came as a Butcher: but gravely declared,
When the ship had been sailing a week,

He could only kill Beavers. The Bellman looked scared,
And was almost too frightened to speak:

But at length he explained, in a tremulous tone,
There was only one Beaver on board;

And that was a tame one he had of his own,
Whose death would be deeply deplored.

The Beaver, who happened to hear the remark,
Protested, with tears in its eyes,

That not even the rapture of hunting the Snark
Could atone for that dismal surprise!

It strongly advised that the Butcher should be
Conveyed in a separate ship:

But the Bellman declared that would never agree
With the plans he had made for the trip:

Navigation was always a difficult art,
Though with only one ship and one bell:

And he feared he must really decline, for his part,
Undertaking another as well.

The Beaver's best course was, no doubt, to procure
A second-hand dagger-proof coat-

So the Baker advised it-- and next, to insure
Its life in some Office of note:

This the Banker suggested, and offered for hire
(On moderate terms), or for sale,

Two excellent Policies, one Against Fire,
And one Against Damage From Hail.

Yet still, ever after that sorrowful day,
Whenever the Butcher was by,

The Beaver kept looking the opposite way,
And appeared unaccountably shy.

Fit the Second


The Bellman himself they all praised to the skies-Such
a carriage, such ease and such grace!

Such solemnity, too! One could see he was wise,
The moment one looked in his face!

He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:

And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and Equators
TropicsZonesand Meridian Lines?"

So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
They are merely conventional signs!

Other maps are such shapeswith their islands and capes!
But we've got our brave Captain to thank:

(So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best-A
perfect and absolute blank!"

This was charmingno doubt; but they shortly found out
That the Captain they trusted so well

Had only one notion for crossing the ocean
And that was to tingle his bell.

He was thoughtful and grave--but the orders he gave
Were enough to bewilder a crew.

When he cried "Steer to starboardbut keep her head larboard!"
What on earth was the helmsman to do?

Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes:
A thingas the Bellman remarked

That frequently happens in tropical climes
When a vessel isso to speaksnarked.

But the principal failing occurred in the sailing
And the Bellmanperplexed and distressed

Said he had hopedat leastwhen the wind blew due East
That the ship would not travel due West!

But the danger was past--they had landed at last
With their boxesportmanteausand bags:

Yet at first sight the crew were not pleased with the view
Which consisted to chasms and crags.

The Bellman perceived that their spirits were low
And repeated in musical tone

Some jokes he had kept for a season of woe-But
the crew would do nothing but groan.

He served out some grog with a liberal hand
And bade them sit down on the beach:

And they could not but own that their Captain looked grand
As he stood and delivered his speech.

Friends, Romans, and countrymen, lend me your ears!
(They were all of them fond of quotations:

So they drank to his healthand they gave him three cheers
While he served out additional rations).

We have sailed many months, we have sailed many weeks,
(Four weeks to the month you may mark),

But never as yet ('tis your Captain who speaks)
Have we caught the least glimpse of a Snark!

We have sailed many weekswe have sailed many days
(Seven days to the week I allow)

But a Snarkon the which we might lovingly gaze
We have never beheld till now!

Come, listen, my men, while I tell you again
The five unmistakable marks

By which you may know, wheresoever you go,
The warranted genuine Snarks.

Let us take them in order. The first is the taste
Which is meager and hollowbut crisp:

Like a coat that is rather too tight in the waist
With a flavor of Will-o-the-wisp.

Its habit of getting up late you'll agree
That it carries too far, when I say

That it frequently breakfasts at five-o'clock tea,
And dines on the following day.

The third is its slowness in taking a jest.
Should you happen to venture on one

It will sigh like a thing that is deeply distressed:
And it always looks grave at a pun.

The fourth is its fondness for bathing-machines,
Which is constantly carries about,

And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes-A
sentiment open to doubt.

The fifth is ambition. It next will be right
To describe each particular batch:

Distinguishing those that have feathersand bite
And those that have whiskersand scratch.

For, although common Snarks do no manner of harm,
Yet, I feel it my duty to say,

Some are Boojums--The Bellman broke off in alarm
For the Baker had fainted away.

Fit the Third


They roused him with muffins--they roused him with ice-They
roused him with mustard and cress--

They roused him with jam and judicious advice-They
set him conundrums to guess.

When at length he sat up and was able to speak
His sad story he offered to tell;

And the Bellman cried "Silence! Not even a shriek!"
And excitedly tingled his bell.

There was silence supreme! Not a shrieknot a scream

Scarcely even a howl or a groan

As the man they called "Ho!" told his story of woe
In an antediluvian tone.

My father and mother were honest, though poor--
Skip all that!cried the Bellman in haste.

If it once becomes dark, there's no chance of a Snark-We
have hardly a minute to waste!

I skip forty years,said the Bakerin tears
And proceed without further remark

To the day when you took me aboard of your ship
To help you in hunting the Snark.

A dear uncle of mine (after whom I was named)
Remarkedwhen I bade him farewell--"

Oh, skip your dear uncle!the Bellman exclaimed
As he angrily tingled his bell.

He remarked to me then,said that mildest of men
'If your Snark be a Snark, that is right:

Fetch it home by all means--you may serve it with greens,
And it's handy for striking a light.

'You may seek it with thimbles--and seek it with care;
You may hunt it with forks and hope;

You may threaten its life with a railway-share;
You may charm it with smiles and soap--' "

("That's exactly the method the Bellman bold
In a hasty parenthesis cried,

That's exactly the way I have always been told
That the capture of Snarks should be tried!")

'But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
If your Snark be a Boojum! For then

You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
And never be met with again!'

It is thisit is this that oppresses my soul
When I think of my uncle's last words:

And my heart is like nothing so much as a bowl
Brimming over with quivering curds!

It is this, it is this--We have had that before!
The Bellman indignantly said.

And the Baker replied "Let me say it once more.
It is thisit is this that I dread!

I engage with the Snark--every night after dark-In
a dreamy delirious fight:

I serve it with greens in those shadowy scenes,
And I use it for striking a light:

But if ever I meet with a Boojumthat day
In a moment (of this I am sure)

I shall softly and suddenly vanish away-And
the notion I cannot endure!"

Fit the fourth


The Bellman looked uffishand wrinkled his brow.
If only you'd spoken before!

It's excessively awkward to mention it now,
With the Snark, so to speak, at the door!

We should all of us grieveas you well may believe
If you never were met with again--

But surelymy manwhen the voyage began
You might have suggested it then?

It's excessively awkward to mention it now-As
I think I've already remarked.

And the man they called "Hi!" repliedwith a sigh
I informed you the day we embarked.

You may charge me with murder--or want of sense-(
We are all of us weak at times):

But the slightest approach to a false pretense
Was never among my crimes!

I said it in Hebrew--I said it in Dutch-I
said it in German and Greek:

But I wholly forgot (and it vexes me much)
That English is what you speak!

'Tis a pitiful tale,said the Bellmanwhose face
Had grown longer at every word:

But, now that you've stated the whole of your case,
More debate would be simply absurd.

The rest of my speech" (he explained to his men)
You shall hear when I've leisure to speak it.

But the Snark is at hand, let me tell you again!
'Tis your glorious duty to seek it!

To seek it with thimblesto seek it with care;
To pursue it with forks and hope;

To threaten its life with a railway-share;
To charm it with smiles and soap!

For the Snark's a peculiar creature, that won't
Be caught in a commonplace way.

Do all that you know, and try all that you don't:
Not a chance must be wasted to-day!

For England expects--I forbear to proceed:
'Tis a maxim tremendousbut trite:

And you'd best be unpacking the things that you need
To rig yourselves out for the fight."

Then the Banker endorsed a blank check (which he crossed)
And changed his loose silver for notes.

The Baker with care combed his whiskers and hair
And shook the dust out of his coats.

The Boots and the Broker were sharpening a spade-Each
working the grindstone in turn:

But the Beaver went on making laceand displayed
No interest in the concern:

Though the Barrister tried to appeal to its pride
And vainly proceeded to cite

A number of casesin which making laces
Had been proved an infringement of right.

The maker of Bonnets ferociously planned
A novel arrangement of bows:

While the Billiard-marker with quivering hand
Was chalking the tip of his nose.

But the Butcher turned nervousand dressed himself fine
With yellow kid gloves and a ruff--

Said he felt it exactly like going to dine
Which the Bellman declared was all "stuff."

Introduce me, now there's a good fellow,he said
If we happen to meet it together!

And the Bellmansagaciously nodding his head
Said "That must depend on the weather."

The Beaver went simply galumphing about
At seeing the Butcher so shy:

And even the Bakerthough stupid and stout
Made an effort to wink with one eye.

Be a man!said the Bellman in wrathas he heard
The Butcher beginning to sob.

Should we meet with a Jubjub, that desperate bird,
We shall need all our strength for the job!

Fit the Fifth


They sought it with thimblesthey sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;

They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

Then the Butcher contrived an ingenious plan
For making a separate sally;

And fixed on a spot unfrequented by man
A dismal and desolate valley.

But the very same plan to the Beaver occurred:
It had chosen the very same place:

Yet neither betrayedby a sign or a word
The disgust that appeared in his face.

Each thought he was thinking of nothing but "Snark"
And the glorious work of the day;

And each tried to pretend that he did not remark
That the other was going that way.

But the valley grew narrow and narrower still
And the evening got darker and colder

Till (merely from nervousnessnot from goodwill)
They marched along shoulder to shoulder.

Then a screamshrill and highrent the shuddering sky
And they knew that some danger was near:

The Beaver turned pale to the tip of its tail
And even the Butcher felt queer.

He thought of his childhoodleft far far behind-That
blissful and innocent state--

The sound so exactly recalled to his mind
A pencil that squeaks on a slate!

'Tis the voice of the Jubjub!he suddenly cried.
(This manthat they used to call "Dunce.")

As the Bellman would tell you,he added with pride
I have uttered that sentiment once.

'Tis the note of the Jubjub! Keep countI entreat;
You will find I have told it you twice.

'Tis the song of the Jubjub! The proof is complete
If only I've stated it thrice."

The Beaver had counted with scrupulous care
Attending to every word:

But it fairly lost heartand outgrabe in despair
When the third repetition occurred.

It felt thatin spite of all possible pains
It had somehow contrived to lose count

And the only thing now was to rack its poor brains
By reckoning up the amount.

Two added to one--if that could but be done,
It saidwith one's fingers and thumbs!

Recollecting with tears howin earlier years
It had taken no pains with its sums.

The thing can be done,said the ButcherI think.
The thing must be done, I am sure.

The thing shall be done! Bring me paper and ink,
The best there is time to procure.

The Beaver brought paperportfoliopens
And ink in unfailing supplies:

While strange creepy creatures came out of their dens
And watched them with wondering eyes.

So engrossed was the Butcherhe heeded them not
As he wrote with a pen in each hand

And explained all the while in a popular style
Which the Beaver could well understand.

Taking Three as the subject to reason about-A
convenient number to state--

We add Seven, and Ten, and then multiply out
By One Thousand diminished by Eight.

The result we proceed to divideas you see
By Nine Hundred and Ninety Two:

Then subtract Seventeenand the answer must be
Exactly and perfectly true.

The method employed I would gladly explain,
While I have it so clear in my head,

If I had but the time and you had but the brain-But
much yet remains to be said.

In one moment I've seen what has hitherto been
Enveloped in absolute mystery

And without extra charge I will give you at large

A Lesson in Natural History."

In his genial way he proceeded to say
(Forgetting all laws of propriety

And that giving instructionwithout introduction
Would have caused quite a thrill in Society)

As to temper the Jubjub's a desperate bird,
Since it lives in perpetual passion:

Its taste in costume is entirely absurd-It
is ages ahead of the fashion:

But it knows any friend it has met once before:
It never will look at a bride:

And in charity-meetings it stands at the door
And collects--though it does not subscribe.

Its flavor when cooked is more exquisite far
Than mutton, or oysters, or eggs:

(Some think it keeps best in an ivory jar,
And some, in mahogany kegs:)

You boil it in sawdust: you salt it in glue:
You condense it with locusts and tape:

Still keeping one principal object in view-To
preserve its symmetrical shape."

The Butcher would gladly have talked till next day
But he felt that the lesson must end

And he wept with delight in attempting to say
He considered the Beaver his friend.

While the Beaver confessedwith affectionate looks
More eloquent even than tears

It had learned in ten minutes far more than all books
Would have taught it in seventy years.

They returned hand-in-handand the Bellmanunmanned
(For a moment) with noble emotion

Said "This amply repays all the wearisome days
We have spent on the billowy ocean!"

Such friendsas the Beaver and Butcher became
Have seldom if ever been known;

In winter or summer'twas always the same-You
could never meet either alone.

And when quarrels arose--as one frequently finds
Quarrels willspite of every endeavor--

The song of the Jubjub recurred to their minds
And cemented their friendship for ever!

Fit the Sixth


They sought it with thimblesthey sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;

They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

But the Barristerweary of proving in vain
That the Beaver's lace-making was wrong

Fell asleepand in dreams saw the creature quite plain
That his fancy had dwelt on so long.

He dreamed that he stood in a shadowy Court
Where the Snarkwith a glass in its eye

Dressed in gownbandsand wigwas defending a pig
On the charge of deserting its sty.

The Witnesses provedwithout error or flaw
That the sty was deserted when found:

And the Judge kept explaining the state of the law
In a soft under-current of sound.

The indictment had never been clearly expressed
And it seemed that the Snark had begun

And had spoken three hoursbefore any one guessed
What the pig was supposed to have done.

The Jury had each formed a different view
(Long before the indictment was read)

And they all spoke at onceso that none of them knew
One word that the others had said.

You must know ---said the Judge: but the Snark exclaimed "Fudge!"
That statute is obsolete quite!

Let me tell youmy friendsthe whole question depends
On an ancient manorial right.

In the matter of Treason the pig would appear
To have aided, but scarcely abetted:

While the charge of Insolvency fails, it is clear,
If you grant the plea 'never indebted.'

The fact of Desertion I will not dispute;
But its guiltas I trustis removed

(So far as related to the costs of this suit)
By the Alibi which has been proved.

My poor client's fate now depends on your votes.
Here the speaker sat down in his place

And directed the Judge to refer to his notes
And briefly to sum up the case.

But the Judge said he never had summed up before;
So the Snark undertook it instead

And summed it so well that it came to far more
Than the Witnesses ever had said!

When the verdict was called forthe Jury declined
As the word was so puzzling to spell;

But they ventured to hope that the Snark wouldn't mind
Undertaking that duty as well.

So the Snark found the verdictalthoughas it owned
It was spent with the toils of the day:

When it said the word "GUILTY!" the Jury all groaned
And some of them fainted away.

Then the Snark pronounced sentencethe Judge being quite
Too nervous to utter a word:

When it rose to its feetthere was silence like night
And the fall of a pin might be heard.

Transportation for lifewas the sentence it gave
And *then* to be fined forty pound.

The Jury all cheeredthough the Judge said he feared
That the phrase was not legally sound.

But their wild exultation was suddenly checked
When the jailer informed themwith tears

Such a sentence would have not the slightest effect
As the pig had been dead for some years.

The Judge left the Courtlooking deeply disgusted:
But the Snarkthough a little aghast

As the lawyer to whom the defense was entrusted
Went bellowing on to the last.

Thus the Barrister dreamedwhile the bellowing seemed
To grow every moment more clear:

Till he woke to the knell of a furious bell
Which the Bellman rang close at his ear.

Fit the Seventh


They sought it with thimblesthey sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;

They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

And the Bankerinspired with a courage so new
It was matter for general remark

Rushed madly ahead and was lost to their view
In his zeal to discover the Snark

But while he was seeking with thimbles and care
A Bandersnatch swiftly drew nigh

And grabbed at the Bankerwho shrieked in despair
For he knew it was useless to fly.

He offered large discount--he offered a check
(Drawn "to bearer") for seven-pounds-ten:

But the Bandersnatch merely extended its neck
And grabbed at the Banker again.

Without rest or pause--while those frumious jaws
Went savagely snapping around-

He skipped and he hoppedand he floundered and flopped
Till fainting he fell to the ground.

The Bandersnatch fled as the others appeared
Led on by that fear-stricken yell:

And the Bellman remarked "It is just as I feared!"
And solemnly tolled on his bell.

He was black in the faceand they scarcely could trace
The least likeness to what he had been:

While so great was his fright that his waistcoat turned whiteA
wonderful thing to be seen!

To the horror of all who were present that day.

He uprose in full evening dress

And with senseless grimaces endeavored to say
What his tongue could no longer express.

Down he sank in a chair--ran his hands through his hair-And
chanted in mimsiest tones

Words whose utter inanity proved his insanity
While he rattled a couple of bones.

Leave him here to his fate--it is getting so late!
The Bellman exclaimed in a fright.

We have lost half the day. Any further delay,
And we sha'nt catch a Snark before night!

Fit the Eighth


They sought it with thimblesthey sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;

They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

They shuddered to think that the chase might fail
And the Beaverexcited at last

Went bounding along on the tip of its tail
For the daylight was nearly past.

There is Thingumbob shouting!the Bellman said
He is shouting like mad, only hark!

He is waving his hands, he is wagging his head,
He has certainly found a Snark!

They gazed in delightwhile the Butcher exclaimed
He was always a desperate wag!

They beheld him--their Baker--their hero unnamed-On
the top of a neighboring crag.

Erect and sublimefor one moment of time.
In the nextthat wild figure they saw

(As if stung by a spasm) plunge into a chasm
While they waited and listened in awe.

It's a Snark!was the sound that first came to their ears
And seemed almost too good to be true.

Then followed a torrent of laughter and cheers:
Then the ominous words "It's a Boo-"

Thensilence. Some fancied they heard in the air
A weary and wandering sigh

Then sounded like "-jum!" but the others declare
It was only a breeze that went by.

They hunted till darkness came onbut they found
Not a buttonor featheror mark

By which they could tell that they stood on the ground
Where the Baker had met with the Snark.

In the midst of the word he was trying to say
In the midst of his laughter and glee

He had softly and suddenly vanished away--

For the Snark *was* a Boojumyou see.