Alice's Adventures In Wonderland (Chapter 5):

`Repeat "You are old, Father William",' said the Caterpillar.

Alice folded her hands, and began:

`You are old, Father William,' the young man said,
`And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head--
Do you think, at your age, it is right?'

`In my youth,' Father William replied to his son,
`I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.'

`You are old,' said the youth, `as I mentioned before.
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door--
Pray, what is the reason of that?'

`In my youth,' said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
`I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment--one shilling the box--
Allow me to sell you a couple?'

`You are old,' said the youth, `and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak--
Pray, how did you manage to do it?'

`In my youth,' said his father, `I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.'

`You are old,' said the youth, `one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose--
What made you so awfully clever?'

`I have answered three questions, and that is enough,'
Said his father, `Don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down-stairs!'

`That is not said right,' said the Caterpillar.

`Not quite right, I'm afraid,' said Alice, timidly: `some of the words have got altered.'

`It is wrong from beginning to end,' said the Caterpillar, decidedly; and there was silence for some minutes.

The true gift of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is the irony, the limerick, and its understanding of children. By setting about to write a book of fantastic entertainment, the story has nothing moralizing about it and functions solely as a comedy, making use of fantasy and the burlesque. Although written for children, adults as well find it entertaining. With the creations of a wonderful literary of popular verses of his time, Carroll delighted in turning the poetical canon, songs, and nursery rhymes of his day into takeoffs for scholars to later set about discovering his original sources.

Parody is as old as poetry. There were no doubt cut ups making a mockery of the Iliad while Homer drowsed and the purpose for parody is manifold. Sometimes it is simply to underscore a striking trait or inclination of a person and this is called caricature. If the intentions are to ridicule, then it may be termed burlesque. When applied to a particular work, parody might be also be considered a form of criticism. Parodies have existed:

    .....since literature began. Aristophanes brilliantly parodied the plays of Euripides; Cervantes's Don Quixote (1605–15) parodies chivalric romances...... and Max Beerbohm's A Christmas Garland (1912) wickedly parodies such authors as Kipling,... and Henry James. Noted 20th-century parodists include Ogden Nash, S. J. Perelman, Robert Benchley, James Thurber, E. B. White, and Woody Allen.
Southy, Britain's poet laureate during the late 1700s to the early 1800s is the target of ridicule and Carroll is especially poking fun at Southy's didactic poem written to instill moral virtue into its young readers.

The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them

    "You are old, father William," the young man cried,
    "The few locks which are left you are grey;
    You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
    Now tell me the reason, I pray."

    "In the days of my youth," father William replied,
    "I remember'd that youth would fly fast,
    And abus'd not my health and my vigour at first,
    That I never might need them at last."

    "You are old, father William," the young man cried,
    "And pleasures with youth pass away.
    And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
    Now tell me the reason, I pray."

    "In the days of my youth," father William replied,
    "I rememberd that youth could not last;
    I thought of the future, whatever I did,
    That I never might grieve for the past."

    "You are old, father William," the young man cried,
    "And life must be hast'ning away;
    You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
    Now tell me the reason, I pray."

    "I am cheerful, young man," father William replied,
    "Let the cause thy attention engage;
    In the days of my youth I remember'd my God!
    And He hath not forgotten my age."

    Robert Southey (1774-1852)

Alice adroitly debases as she mocks its pious values and grey, dismal, view of the transience of youth as she parodies The Old Man's Comforts and How he Gained Them. Ironically, were it not for Carroll’s travesty, Southey would probably have faded completely from view and it would certainly not receive the attention that it does. Others have targeted Southey more notably, Byron's A Vision of Judgment and Shelley's Peter Bell are both much more widely recognized than the Southey poem they parody, The Vision of Judgment. Part of what makes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland enduring literature is that it possesses a transitive power, it 'narrates a sacred history' and as a result The Old Man’s Comforts becomes stronger by association. Plainly Carrolls' Alice does a much better job with the abab construct combined with the burlesquing of the overburdened instructions for children from Southy. Most people, however, are not aware that this is even a parody it is so amusing on its own. By illustrating an important point common to successful parodies: it contains enough of the original to make sure everyone recognizes it, but is still impressive with its own freshness and ingenuity. Alice recites her poem to the Caterpillar and they both share a little inside joke at the end when they say that the words are not "quite right" making it a real a standard of excellence!


Public Domain text taken from the Poet’s Corner:


CST Approved.

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