Don't you think the joker laughs at you..."
"...I am the walrus-- goo goo g'joob."
John Lennon I Am The Walrus (1967)
"I was the Walrus but now I'm John"
John Lennon, ‘God’ (1970)
In a 1970 interview Lennon explained what inspired his song:
"We saw the movie in L.A. and the Walrus was a big capitalist that ate all the bleeping oysters. I always had the image of the Walrus in the garden and I loved it, and so I didn't ever check what the Walrus was. He's a bleeping bast**d-that's what he turns out to be. But the way it's written, everybody presumes that means something. I mean even I did. We all just presumed that because I said 'I Am The Walrus' that it means 'I Am God' or something. It's just poetry, but it became symbolic of me."
Four years later in another interview he talks about the song again:
"I Am The Walrus is also one of my favorite tracks-because I did it, of course, but also because it is one of those that has enough little bitties going to keep you interested even a hundred years later."
Paul McCartney adds how they perpetuated a growing phenomenon among their fans:
"John wrote the tune 'Glass Onion' (1968), I mean he wrote it mainly, but I helped him on it, and when we were writing it we were thinking specifically of the whole idea of all these kind of people who write in and say 'Who is the Walrus, John? Were you the Walrus?' or 'Is Paul the Walrus?' So John, I mean, he happened to have a line go 'Oh Yeah, the Walrus was Paul' and we had a great giggle to say yeah let's do that. Let's put this line in 'cause everybody's gonna read into it and go crackers cause they all thought John was the Walrus."
By 1980 Lennon describes in more details what he was thinking when he composed it:
"It's from The Walrus and the Carpenter, Alice In Wonderland. To me, it was a beautiful poem. It never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist system. I never went into that bit about what it really meant, like people are doing with The Beatles' work. Later I went back and looked at it and realised that the Walrus was the bad guy in the story, and the Carpenter was the good guy, I thought, 'Oh bleep, I've picked the wrong guy.' But that wouldn't have been the same, would it? I am the Carpenter...'
I was just having a laugh because there had been so much gobblegook about 'Pepper', play it backwards and you stand on your head and all that... That was me just doing a throwaway. I threw in the line 'the Walrus was Paul'-just to confuse everybody a bit more. It could have been 'the Fox Terrier was Paul'. It's just a piece of poetry...
At that time I was still in my love cloud with Yoko. I thought, Well, I'll just say something nice to Paul, that it's all right and you did a good job over these years, holding us together. He was trying to organise the group and all that, so I wanted to say something to him. I thought, 'Well, he can have it, I've got Yoko. And thank you, you can have the credit.' The line was put in partly because I was feeling guilty because I was with Yoko and I was leaving Paul. It's a very perverse way of saying to Paul, 'Here, have this crumb, this illusion, this stroke-because I'm leaving."
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
From backwards talking knights to backward playing records The Walrus and The Carpenter continue to weave their way through time. When they were published, Alice's adventures were considered children's literature, but now Lewis Carroll's stories are commonly viewed in a different light. Music makers have been talking among themselves across time by the likes Edmund Wilson and W.H. Auden. Virginia Woolf observed, "the two Alices are not books for children; they are the only books in which we become children". This surrealistic world attracted the hippies in the 1960s and Carroll's characters found themselves in songs like Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit' and The Beatles 'I am the Walrus'.
Lewis Carroll's characters and lyrics went on to make an appearance in Fredric Brown's novel Night of the Jabberwock (1950). In the 1990s Jeff Noon continued Alice's adventures in Automated Alice, in which she is transported to the modern world. Dogma appears on the time line and specifically spotlights the Walrus and the Carpenter as a religious allusion. Now poor Alice has vanished once again down the rabbit hole of The Matrix with its embedded symbolism from both Buddhism and the Judeo-Christian religions. Carroll's rhyme "The Walrus and the Carpenter," makes fun of one principle in the everyday world. Even if human beings recognize the damaging effects of their actions, Carroll seems to say, they will still behave the same way.
The finest part of the Alice books is Alice herself, as a daring and curious child, perceptive and candid, frightened at times but more often sensible in the face of a world which has, along with all the grown ups in it, been turned upside down. She remains well mannered while flooded with the greatest pile of nonsense and illogic ever imagined, and she wins in the end by keeping her head.
There's not even a shrug of a normal plotline, no rising and falling action, no adversary. It's simply Alice moving from one bizarre and ridiculous encounter to another. Through the Looking Glass is presumably a representation of a chess game, Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, The Walrus and the Carpenter, plus the White Knight, the Red Queen are all chess-piece characters. Even so, with this concrete realization it does nothing to change the feel of the book. What trumps the story is its lack of plot. Namely to miss Alice is to miss all. T S Eliot picks up on this theme where Carroll leaves off in his A Game of Chess. While Carroll has tried to prepare Alice for her impending future Eliot presents her in the present as a woman who is still the little girl lost, reflecting on the bitter and jaded pills of her past. Alice has experienced a Shakespearean sea change; still she cries, and still the world pursues and chants the broken phrase, Hurry up please its time.
Born at Daresbury in Chesire into a wealthy family Lewis Carroll attended a Yorkshire grammar school and Rugby. At Christ Church, Oxford, he studied mathematics and lived much of his life in England. "The Walrus and the Carpenter' was written at Whitburn Sands, Sunderland.
Lewis Carroll's cousins, the Misses Wilcox, lived at Whitburn, near Sunderland. One evening, whose date is not recorded, they had a game of verse making and "Jabberwocky" was Carroll's contribution - based on the first verse that he had composed at Croft in 1855. (Green, pp.54-54.) (Myers, p.16) says "Jabberwocky" was written on a visit in 1855, that Mrs. Wilcox, the wife of the Collector of Customs at Sunderland, lived at High Croft, since burned down, that he probably composed The Walrus and the Carpenter walking on the beaches here or nearby, and that there is a statue of Carroll in Cornthwaite Park, Whitburn. Carroll also had other relatives here - the Collingwoods - whom he also visited. It is possible that from here, he visited nearby Sunderland, where there was a fine walrus in the museum, but it has decayed and only the head remains (Myers, p.16).
("Whitburn, Tyne & Wear." The British Society for the History of Mathematics)
First published in 1871, in Through The Looking-Glass, this passage is from chapter 4 in Alice Through The Looking Glass. Lewis Carroll (1832-98) was the pen name of Charles Dodgson. Shy and stammering the mathematics lecturer ifrom Oxford had the original publication rendered in italics.
The Alice books lend themselves almost too easily to interpretation, Arthur Clement Hilton parodies this poem in The Vulture and the Husbandman. It is so saturated with symbols that an argument could be made for practically any point of view that any critic may wish to take. Phrases to refer to impossibilities; a winged pig and the sun is out at night combined with tautologies of wet seas, dry sands, and clouds in a cloudless sky. Carroll manages to write good nonsense with consummate ease.
Especially interesting to all ages is the way Carroll plays with so many different kinds of nonsense. The beginning stanza reads like a piece of juvenilia straight out of a Victorian children's book. Indeed, that final couplet sets the tone for the rest of the poem with snippets like:
'The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand:
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:'
'Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat --
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.'
and of course the famous:
''The time has come,' the Walrus said,
'To talk of many things:
Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing wax --
Of cabbages -- and kings --
And why the sea is boiling hot --
And whether pigs have wings.''
Verses dazzle in their effortlessness and sheer nonsense. The whole poem is written in the same element - simple, down-to-earth, and outright bizarre until the brilliantly deadpan final couplet catches reader completely off-balance with its reversal of all that is 'normal'.
"O Oysters," said the Carpenter.
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?"
But answer came there none--
And that was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.
Comic verse thrives on the melodic union of incongruities, such as the "cabbages and kings." Ha! What could be moister than tears of an oyster?
Through the Looking Glass picks up the previous story, Alice in Wonderland, at an unspecified amount of time later, as Alice steps through a mirror. The first thing that she does in the Looking Glass world is read a backwards book, and what she reads is no less than the famous poem "Jabberwocky." Alice leaves the house and stumbles upon the Garden of Live Flowers and a Red Queen, takes a train ride and inspects some strange insects just before she encounters Tweedledum and Tweedledee, who tell her the story of The Walrus and the Carpenter:
The other two dancers were fat, and very soon out of breath. "Four times round is enough for one dance," Tweedledum panted out, and they left off dancing as suddenly as they had begun: the music stopped at the same moment.
Then they let go of Alice's hands, and stood looking at her for a minute: there was a rather awkward pause, as Alice didn't know how to begin a conversation with people she had just been dancing with. "It would never do to say 'How d'ye do?' now," she said' to herself: we seem to have got beyond that, somehow!"
"I hope you're not much tired?" she said at last.
"No-how. And thank you very much for asking," said Tweedledum.
"So much obliged!" added Tweedledee. "You like poetry?"
"Ye-es, pretty well -- some poetry," Alice said doubtfully. "Would you tell me which road leads out of the wood?"
"What shall I repeat to her?" said Tweedledee, looking round at Tweedledum with great solemn eyes, and not noticing Alice's questions.
"'The Walrus and the Carpenter' is the longest," Tweedledum replied, giving his brother an affectionate hug.
Tweedledee began instantly:
"The sun was shining -- "
Here Alice ventured to interrupt him. "If it's very' long," she said, as politely as she could, "would you please tell me first which road -- "
Tweedledee smiled gently, and began again:
"The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright --
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.
With a twist of dark irony Carroll imposes a paradox of moral satire upon the adult reader. By the end of Tweedledee's poem Alice becomes a casualty in a, no-win game of logic with Tweedledum.
"I like the Walrus best," said Alice: "because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters."
"He ate more than the Carpenter, though," said Tweedledee. "You see he held his handkerchief in front, so that the Carpenter couldn't count how many he took: contrariwise."
"That was mean!" Alice said indignantly. "Then I like the Carpenter best -- if he didn't eat so many as the Walrus."
"But he ate as many as he could get," said Tweedledum.
This was a puzzler. After a pause, Alice began, "Well! They were both very unpleasant characters -- " Here she checked herself in some alarm, at hearing something that sounded to her like the puffing of a large steam-engine in the wood near them, thought she feared it was more likely to be a wild beast. "Are there any lions or tigers about here?" she asked timidly.
Whether she sides with the Carpenter, who ate as many oysters as he could get, or the Walrus, who ate even more but felt guilty about it, she inescapably beaten by Tweedledum's arguments. The witty verse flourishes among the union of incongruities, such as the "cabbages and kings" posing the rather perplexing problems about oysters who have no need for shoes, ships, and sealing wax. This totally out of the ordinary and improbable scene begins with a sense of cheerfulness, until the humor becomes rather bitter. After all, it's the Walrus that feels the human emotion, not the Carpenter. With this inversion of character, Carroll makes an implication that humanity operates on the same level as the beast. The plot is simple. Several little, unsuspecting oysters go for a walk and end up devoured by a Walrus and a Carpenter. The question is, why?
To get an idea of what was behind Carroll's watery epic; remember his audience was a small band of girls, the daughters of Dean Liddell of Christ College, Oxford. The author knew that by including fantastical elements in his stories and poems, they would appeal to the senses of children. Only a few children would wonder about the innate meaning of a story if it tells an interesting tale. The reader comes upon identical somethings, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, endeavor to stall Alice who is trying to leave their house. Having had a mock battle over a rattle they chose to recite the longest poem they knew in order to stop Alice the purpose of the poem in the story is simply to kill time.
Carroll uses several techniques in the poem while gently poking fun at what is called catalogue verse, "poems with lists that perform an encyclopedic purpose, lending high seriousness to a topic. "The form is fixed and definite sing song voice: "The sea was wet as wet could be, the sands were dry as dry"
Carroll varied his meter, alternating tetrameter and trimeter every line, which makes an interesting pattern. He chose to use sestets, and the whole poem contains 18 stanzas (108 lines). Martin Gardener states that this meter is an imitation of Thomas Hood's Dream of Eugene Aram. (Gardener 233).
The rhyme scheme follows an ABCBDB pattern and Carroll seemed to favor strong, masculine rhymes like "things," "kings," and "wings." He also favored end-stops, preferring them to caesuras, which occur rather infrequently. In The Walrus and the Carpenter he averaged about four end-stops a stanza. Some are in the form of commas, periods, and semi-colons, but Carroll also seemed to have a fondness for dashes at the end of the fourth line of a stanza. This occurs eight times in the poem. The result of all this end-stopping is to make his rhymes almost painfully obvious, but if you think about it, there is no major plot to stand out, so the structure takes its place as the subject of emphasis.
By employing a paradox, a little consonance, and some personification perhaps the single most important thing to convey is that there is a great deal more in than what meets the eye. That neither is there harm, yet often even greater good, in apparent nonsense that turns out to have a wonderfully clever sense to it after all.
Most of the ingenuity of the Alice books is now indistinguishable, owing to a few reasons. The "in" jokes are one example. For a great deal of the references the readers needs to be English. For many of them the reader, in particular, needs to be from Oxford, and to understand most of them the reader would have to had been in Carroll's immediate circle of friends. Words and phrases and even political affairs have been obscured by the passage of time. So much has changed since Carroll's day that what were once obvious, commonplace references are now simply meaningless. Outside of all this, which Carroll deliberately put into this poem, there is what he may have put in unwittingly. There seems to be an unscratchable itch in some minds where they can't seem to leave well enough alone, but demand some kind psychoanalytic explanation of the meaning or meanings of all the unusual things--which is virtually everything--that Alice finds in the strange worlds she travels through. It's the middle of the night yet the sun is shining. Who is more selfish and devious - the Walrus or the Carpenter? What lesson do the Oysters forget about what to do when approached by strangers? What exactly is the moral dilemma betwixt and between the oysters, the Walrus and the Carpenter?
"Of that passage which," as one scholar Martin Gardner points out, "parallels the famous, or notorious, position of Bishop Berkeley on reality and Sam'l Johnson's equally famous or notorious rejoinder Bertrand Russell remarked "A very instructive discussion from a philosophical point of view, but if it were not put so humorously, we should find it too painful."
One key to Carroll's particular brand of lunacy is the compilation of non-sequiturs invented words and strange constructions all tied up in verbal incongruities. On one level it can be perceived as a rhyme, which serves as a "warning" to children that there are mean, manipulative authority figures out there in the real world that are not quite what they appear to be. Adult explanations over time have taken it to the next logical level. All these essences add up to make Carroll's Alice books the stuff of real literature.
The delightfully gruesome line," The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things" is one that many adults and almost no children remember. Adults can read the poem with a great deal of pleasure and smile at the grisly ending every time. Not many children would have the patience to wade through 108 lines for the punch line. Nor is it the kind of thing a grown up can envision them wanting to hear over and over," Daddy, daddy, tell the part again where they trick the oysters!"
On the other hand, what is the big idea when discussing this collection of imaginings within dreams out of the mind of one Lewis Carroll, the reverie of a kind-hearted but slightly stuffy mathematician.
Thank you to smartalix for the tip that "cabbages and kings" refers to Old King Cole and coleslaw.
BSHM Gazetteer :
Playboy Interview With John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1980:
minstrelsThe Walrus and the Carpenter -- Lewis Carroll:
Public domain text taken from CHAPTER 4: TWEEDLEDUM AND TWEEDLEDEE:
THE WALRUS WAS?:
Your Daily Poetry Break: