the Mad Gardener’s Song

April 25, 2013 § 1 Comment

He thought he saw an Elephant,
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
‘At length I realise,’ he said,
‘The bitterness of Life!’

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister’s Husband’s Niece.
‘Unless you leave this house,’ he said,
‘I’ll send for the Police!’

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
‘The only thing I regret,’ he said,
‘Is that it cannot speak!’

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus:
‘If this should stay to dine,’ he said,
‘There won’t be much for us!’

He thought he saw a Kangaroo
That worked a coffee-mill:
He looked again, and found it was
A Vegetable-Pill.
‘Were I to swallow this,’ he said,
‘I should be very ill!’

He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four
That stood beside his bed:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bear without a Head.
‘Poor thing,’ he said, ‘poor silly thing!
It’s waiting to be fed!’

He thought he saw an Albatross
That fluttered round the lamp:
He looked again, and found it was
A Penny-Postage-Stamp.
‘You’d best be getting home,’ he said:
‘The nights are very damp!’

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
A Double Rule of Three:
‘And all its mystery,’ he said,
‘Is clear as day to me!’

He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
‘A fact so dread,’ he faintly said,
‘Extinguishes all hope!’

Lewis Carroll

From Sylvie and Bruno, the last of Carroll’s major works. The poem, whose stanzas appear throughout the novel, suffice as structure to that dreamwork.

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§ One Response to the Mad Gardener’s Song

  • I have actually read Sylvie and Bruno, and can say from experience that the novel’s lack of popularity is well-deserved. The poem deserves to be better known, however. Note how the worldwide financial crisis of 2008 is presaged in the “banker’s clerk” stanza – instead of its proper role as a facilitator of the real economy, expressed by the character of the clerk riding the bus, the financial sector became so overgrown that it was eating everyone’s dinner.

    From that same time period, autumn 2008, here’s a verse that is a sort of parody (or homage) that, while seemingly more prosaic than the original, points to a looking-glass quality of our own age.

    He thought he saw a Candidate
    Who’d put an End to War:
    He looked again, and found it was
    The Same Game as Before.
    “If that’s the way it goes, ” he said,
    “Then what is voting for?”

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