Posted by: Brendon O-L. | December 4, 2009

Pessimistic Poetry

Throughout the story, Carroll included poetry. Characters randomly bursting out reciting poetry and Alice tried remembering the poems she used to know. It was everywhere and every time I saw it I asked myself a question.

Why did he include this?

After thinking about this for weeks, I still have no ideas. Were these common poems that children would have known? Were these poems they would have known by heart? He did not only include poetry, but he often modified them. He added puns and changed it from the original as the the confused Alice tried to recite them.

The characters often recited poetry. The Mock Turtle recited some during the Lobster Quadrille. The White Rabbit said some when he recited the letter that was allegedly written by the Knave during the trial. The Mad Hatter sang this during the tea party:

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!

How I wonder where you’re at!

Even the mouse that we met near the beginning recites a poem in the form of a mouse’s tail. Well you get the point. Almost every character recited some.

Every time she didn’t know who she was, either a character or herself challenged her to recite a poem. She attempted to recite poetry to the Caterpillar, the Mock Turtle, the Griffin, and even herself. Every time she would mess up. Why would they use this as a measure of knowledge? Oh, if I know this poem by heart I must be alright.

This leads me right back to where I started. Were these poems that children would have memorized during school? Is this an accurate measure of well being? I would think not, but then again I never lived in the 1800’s. Maybe they learned more poetry than we do today. Why did Carroll include so much poetry?


  1. I really appreciate that you are asking this question. It is such a great one to contemplate because poetry can get done so much done so quickly that prose takes quite a while to get at.

    I would love to have a definite answer on what you believe, but I appreciate all of the different options you provide. I think that fully supporting one of them would allow you to do some deeper analysis. Good work, though.

  2. Brendon, I’ve been an educator/administrator for 30 years, and your post caught my eye. Early in my tenure as an elementary principal, nursery rhymes were an essential skill for all kindergarteners to be able to recite. Didn’t really know why then, but it was IMPORTANT! Now, not so much. My hunch is that we focus on the importance of literary patterns through other genre, and nursery rhymes aren’t on the front burner. But, I think your hunch was right, poems or nursery rhymes could be recited without learning to read, and were a cute “demonstration” of knowledge for children, kind of like old fashioned spelling bees. I think you are on to something that poetry was much a big deal in Carroll’s time of life.

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