The Hunting of the Snark

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The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony, in Eight Fits) (1874) by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by Henry Holiday is usually thought of as a nonsense poem.

Just the place for a Snark!

Quotes[edit]

  • Chat on, sweet maid, and rescue from annoy
    Hearts that by wiser talk are unbeguiled!
    Ah, happy he who owns that tenderest joy,
    The heart-love of a child!
    • Introductory poem, verse 3
  • IF — and the thing is wildly possible — the charge of writing nonsense were ever brought against the author of this brief but instructive poem, it would be based, I feel convinced, on the line (in Fit the Second)
    "Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes."
    In view of this painful possibility, I 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 itself, to the arithmetical principles so cautiously inculcated in it, or to its noble teachings in Natural History — I will take the more prosaic course of simply explaining how it happened...
    • Preface
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...
  • 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 me, how to pronounce "slithy toves." The "i" in "slithy" is long, as in "writhe"; and "toves" is pronounced so as to rhyme with "groves." Again, the 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 Perversity.
    • Preface
  • "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.
    "

    • Fit the First : The Landing

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

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

    The loss of his clothes hardly mattered, because
    He had seven coats on when he came,
    With three pair of boots, but the worst of it was
    He had wholly forgotten his name.

    • Fit the First : The Landing

  • 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,
    Tropics, zones, and Meridian lines?"
    (So the Bellman would cry) And the crew would reply:
    "They are merely conventional signs!

    "Other maps are such shapes, with 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!"

    • Fit the Second : The Bellman's Speech

  • Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes:
    A thing, as the Bellman remarked,
    That frequently happens in tropical climes,
    When a vessel is, so to speak, "snarked."

    • Fit the Second : The Bellman's Speech

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!
  • But the principal failing occurred in the sailing,
    And the Bellman, perplexed and distressed,
    Said he had hoped, at least, when the wind blew due East
    That the ship would not travel due West!

    • Fit the Second : The Bellman's Speech

  • "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."

    • Fit the Second : The Bellman's Speech

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 Boojum, you see.
  • "'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!'"

    • Fit the Third : The Baker's Tale

  • "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 pretence
    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!"

    • Fit the Fourth : The Hunting

  • "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 divide, as you see,
    By nine-hundred and ninety and two,
    Then subtract seventeen, and 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."

    • Fit the Fifth : The Beaver's Lesson

  • "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."

    • Fit the Fifth : The Beaver's Lesson

  • He dreamed that he stood in a shadowy Court,
    Where the Snark, with a glass in its eye,
    Dressed in gown, bands, and wig, was defending a pig
    On the charge of deserting its sty.

    • Fit the Sixth : The Barrister's Dream

  • He was black in the face, and they scarcely could trace
    The least likeness to what he had been:
    While so great was his fright that his waistcoat turned white—
    A wonderful thing to be seen!

    • Fit the Seventh : The Banker's Fate

  • Erect and sublime, for one moment of time.
    In the next, that 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--"

    Then, silence. Some fancied they heard in the air
    A weary and wandering sigh
    That sounded like "--jum!" But the others declare
    It was only a breeze that went by.

    • Fit the Eighth : The Vanishing

Quotes about[edit]

  • I was walking on a hillside, alone, one bright summer day, when suddenly there came into my head one line of verse—one solitary line—“For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.” I knew not what it meant, then: I know not what it means, now; but I wrote it down: and, sometime afterwards, the rest of the stanza occurred to me, that being its last line: and so by degrees, at odd moments during the next year or two, the rest of the poem pieced itself together, that being its last stanza.
    • Lewis Carroll, Alice on the Stage, The Theatre, April 1887
  • As to the meaning of the Snark? I'm very much afraid I didn't mean anything but nonsense!
    • Lewis Carroll, Letter to "The Lowrie Children" (undated), A Selection from the Letters of Lewis Carroll to his Child-Friends (1933) pp.242-3
  • In answer to your question, "What did you mean the Snark was?" will you tell your friend that I meant that the Snark was a Boojum. I trust that she and you will now feel quite satisfied and happy.
    • Lewis Carroll, Letter to May Barber (12 Jan 1897), A Selection from the Letters of Lewis Carroll to his Child-Friends (1933) p.245
  • The Snark has proved itself a stout warrior and has grown in stature as the years pass by; time has dignified it and brought it the respect of generations of Snarkists.
    • Morton Cohen, Lewis Carroll and His Illustators (2003), p.26
  • Although Lewis Carroll thought of The Hunting of the Snark as a nonsense ballad for children, it is hard to imagine - in fact one shudders to imagine - a child of today reading and enjoying it.
  • The Hunting of the Snark is a poem over which an unstable, sensitive soul might very well go mad.
    • Martin Gardner, The Annotated Snark (1962), Introduction, p.15
  • Much fruitless speculation has been spent over supposed hidden meanings in Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark. The inclination to search for these was strictly natural, though the search was destined to fail.
    • Henry Holiday, The Snark's Significance, Academy, 29 January 1898
  • His crew are simply Tom, Dick and Harry, with the Baker as Everyman. We are all there, all in the same boat, all heading in the wrong direction, going the wrong way.
    • Alexander L. Taylor, The White Knight (1952), p.159

External links[edit]

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