Dreaming As The Summer Dies

Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll (1832 – 1898)

A Boat Beneath A Sunny Sky

By Lewis Carroll

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?


Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known under his pen name Lewis Carroll, authored some of the most complicated and inventive poems and stories in the last 200 years. Both  Jabberwocky and The Hunting Of The Snark are unfairly in my mind categorized as nonsensical poems or pigeon holed as “children’s” literature.  Yet, I have met more than one grown adult who knew only one poem by memory and that poem was Jabberwocky and could recite it brilliantly after a couple of beers.

What about Carroll’s imagination continues to connect with generation after generation of readers? I believe it’s because his “nonsensical” literature actually makes more sense than some of our real life experiences.  Danger and unfairness abounds in Alice in Wonderland but in the end she returns safe and sound to her sister’s side to share her adventure. Carroll turns the world upside down and topsy-turvy not as a parody but because that is how life can feel for many of us.   Crafting all of his writing as “children’s” stories is the real brilliance of his subversive literature, allowing readers of all ages to identify with the humor and inventiveness while letting each of us decide how it connects to our imaginations. If you haven’t read Jabberwocky recently, here is a link.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42916/jabberwocky

Carroll’s ability to make up words is a gift limited to very few writers. I have only attempted it a couple of times in my own writing and nothing as bold or timeless as Carroll’s additions to the English language.  The tradition of using made up words is a hallmark of poets that goes back to oral traditions by story tellers from the beginning of time.  Maybe all new words start out as nonsense. And only become respected members of dialogue as time passes. Do you or your family have a made up word that fits perfectly in your vocabulary?   Is it alive and well and have you immortalized it in a poem?


The Voice Of The Lobster

by Lewis Carroll

”Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him declare
‘You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair.’
As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose
Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.
When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark:
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.’

‘I passed by his garden, and marked, with one eye,
How the Owl and the Panter were sharing a pie:
The Panther took pie-crust, and gravy, and meat,
While the Old had the dish as its share of the treat.
When the pie was all finished, the Owl, as a boon,
Was kindly permitted to pocket the spoon:
While the Panther received knife and fork with a growl,
And concluded the banquet by [eating the owl.]

That Is What I am

Wanda Coleman_2
Wanda Coleman (1946 – 2013)

“Many have referred to Carroll’s rhyme’s as nonsense, but to my childhood world in 1950’s Los Angeles they made perfect sense.”

Wanda Coleman

Requiem For A Nest

by Wanda Coleman

the winged thang built her dream palace
amid the fine green eyes of a sheltering bough
she did not know it was urban turf
disguised as serenely delusionally rural
nor did she know the neighborhood was rife
with slant-mawed felines and those long-taloned
swoopers of prey. she was ignorant of the acidity & oil
that slowly polluted the earth, and was never
to detect the serpent coiled one strong limb below

following her nature she flitted and dove
for whatever blades twigs and mud
could be found under the humming blue
and created a hatchery for her spawn
not knowing all were doomed


Wanda Coleman, the self proclaimed poet laureate of Los Angeles, threw herself headlong into poetry.  She did what great artists do, they find a way to make a living from their creativity and Coleman had to hold down a myriad of odd jobs to accomplish her passions.

In 2020, Black Sparrow Press, Coleman’s longtime publisher, will release Wicked Enchantment: Selected Poem, a collection of Coleman’s best work spanning her career.   It is  edited and has an introduction by Terrance Hayes.  Both Hayes and Coleman have taken the sonnet form and pushed it into new territory,  relevant to their experiences and voice.  I have yet to pick up a copy of this compilation, but it is on my short list of poetry purchases for the new year.  What I enjoy about Coleman is her ability to incorporate profound metaphors with a sense of humor.  Most of her poems work on multiple levels of meanings and yet are not confusing or convoluted.  She worked with a deft ear for language and always entertained.   Do you have a favorite Coleman poem?   Please share.


 

Little Birds

By Lewis Carroll

Little Birds are dining
Warily and well,
Hid in mossy cell:
Hid, I say, by waiters
Gorgeous in their gaiters –
I’ve a Tale to tell.

Little Birds are feeding
Justices with jam,
Rich in frizzled ham:
Rich, I say, in oysters
Haunting shady cloisters –
That is what I am.

Little Birds are teaching
Tigresses to smile,
Innocent of guile:
Smile, I say, not smirkle –
Mouth a semicircle,
That’s the proper style!

Little Birds are sleeping
All among the pins,
Where the loser wins:
Where, I say, he sneezes
When and how he pleases –
So the Tale begins.

Little Birds are writing
Interesting books,
To be read by cooks:
Read, I say, not roasted –
Letterpress, when toasted,
Loses its good looks.

Little Birds are playing
Bagpipes on the shore,
Where the tourists snore:
“Thanks!” they cry. “‘Tis thrilling!
Take, oh take this shilling!
Let us have no more!”

Little Birds are bathing
Crocodiles in cream,
Like a happy dream:
Like, but not so lasting –
Crocodiles, when fasting,
Are not all they seem!

Little Birds are choking
Baronets with bun,
Taught to fire a gun:
Taught, I say, to splinter
Salmon in the winter –
Merely for the fun.

Little Birds are hiding
Crimes in carpet-bags,
Blessed by happy stags:
Blessed, I say, though beaten –
Since our friends are eaten
When the memory flags.

Little Birds are tasting
Gratitude and gold,
Pale with sudden cold:
Pale, I say, and wrinkled –
When the bells have tinkled,
And the Tale is told.

 

Phantasmagoria

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            “Empress of Art, for thee I twine
This wreath with all too slender skill.
Forgive my Muse each halting line,
And for the deed accept the will!”

                                                       Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll published Phantasmagoria and Other poems in 1911. It is a long poem, written in six Cantos, but is of light enough fair that I’ll break the rules on sharing long poems in honor of Halloween.   Here is Canto I and if you are interested in finding out more I have included a link to the entire poem at the end.

Phantasmagoria Canto I (The Trysting)

by Lewis Carroll

ONE winter night, at half-past nine,
Cold, tired, and cross, and muddy,
I had come home, too late to dine,
And supper, with cigars and wine,
Was waiting in the study.

There was a strangeness in the room,
And Something white and wavy
Was standing near me in the gloom –
I took it for the carpet-broom
Left by that careless slavey.

But presently the Thing began
To shiver and to sneeze:
On which I said “Come, come, my man!
That’s a most inconsiderate plan.
Less noise there, if you please!”

“I’ve caught a cold,” the Thing replies,
“Out there upon the landing.”
I turned to look in some surprise,
And there, before my very eyes,
A little Ghost was standing!

He trembled when he caught my eye,
And got behind a chair.
“How came you here,” I said, “and why?
I never saw a thing so shy.
Come out! Don’t shiver there!”

He said “I’d gladly tell you how,
And also tell you why;
But” (here he gave a little bow)
“You’re in so bad a temper now,
You’d think it all a lie.

“And as to being in a fright,
Allow me to remark
That Ghosts have just as good a right
In every way, to fear the light,
As Men to fear the dark.”

“No plea,” said I, “can well excuse
Such cowardice in you:
For Ghosts can visit when they choose,
Whereas we Humans ca’n’t refuse
To grant the interview.”

He said “A flutter of alarm
Is not unnatural, is it?
I really feared you meant some harm:
But, now I see that you are calm,
Let me explain my visit.

“Houses are classed, I beg to state,
According to the number
Of Ghosts that they accommodate:
(The Tenant merely counts as WEIGHT,
With Coals and other lumber).

“This is a ‘one-ghost’ house, and you
When you arrived last summer,
May have remarked a Spectre who
Was doing all that Ghosts can do
To welcome the new-comer.

“In Villas this is always done –
However cheaply rented:
For, though of course there’s less of fun
When there is only room for one,
Ghosts have to be contented.

“That Spectre left you on the Third –
Since then you’ve not been haunted:
For, as he never sent us word,
‘Twas quite by accident we heard
That any one was wanted.

“A Spectre has first choice, by right,
In filling up a vacancy;
Then Phantom, Goblin, Elf, and Sprite –
If all these fail them, they invite
The nicest Ghoul that they can see.

“The Spectres said the place was low,
And that you kept bad wine:
So, as a Phantom had to go,
And I was first, of course, you know,
I couldn’t well decline.”

“No doubt,” said I, “they settled who
Was fittest to be sent
Yet still to choose a brat like you,
To haunt a man of forty-two,
Was no great compliment!”

“I’m not so young, Sir,” he replied,
“As you might think. The fact is,
In caverns by the water-side,
And other places that I’ve tried,
I’ve had a lot of practice:

“But I have never taken yet
A strict domestic part,
And in my flurry I forget
The Five Good Rules of Etiquette
We have to know by heart.”

My sympathies were warming fast
Towards the little fellow:
He was so utterly aghast
At having found a Man at last,
And looked so scared and yellow.

“At least,” I said, “I’m glad to find
A Ghost is not a DUMB thing!
But pray sit down: you’ll feel inclined
(If, like myself, you have not dined)
To take a snack of something:

“Though, certainly, you don’t appear
A thing to offer FOOD to!
And then I shall be glad to hear –
If you will say them loud and clear –
The Rules that you allude to.”

“Thanks! You shall hear them by and by.
This IS a piece of luck!”
“What may I offer you?” said I.
“Well, since you ARE so kind, I’ll try
A little bit of duck.

“ONE slice! And may I ask you for
Another drop of gravy?”
I sat and looked at him in awe,
For certainly I never saw
A thing so white and wavy.

And still he seemed to grow more white,
More vapoury, and wavier –
Seen in the dim and flickering light,
As he proceeded to recite
His “Maxims of Behaviour.”

 

For the next installment, Canto II (Hys Fyve Rules) and a complete reproduction of the original book, check out the link to Project Gutenberg below:

Phantasmagoria and Other Poems by Lewis Carroll.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/651/651-h/651-h.htm#page1

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