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Latin and Greek Versions of "Jabberwocky" Exercises in Laughing and Grief * August A. Imholtz, Jr. Beltsville, Maryland 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe. "Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun The frumious Bandersnatch!" He took his vorpal sword in hand: Long time the manxome foe he sought— So rested he by the Tumtum tree, And stood awhile in thought. And, as in uffish thought he stood, The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame, Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, And burbled as it came! One, two! One, two! And through and through The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back. "And, hast thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" He chortled in his joy. 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.2 Few English nonsense verses have been translated into as many foreign languages as Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," that whimsical poem from the first chapter of Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. In 1964, Warren Weaver compiled a bibliography oftranslations ofthe Alice books in which he listed forty-two versions of Through the Looking-Glass, that is forty-two translations of "Jabberwocky," in some sixteen languages (66-69). During the past twenty-three years many more translations have appeared (Guiliano 226-27). The large number oftranslations ofthe Alice books, however, is doubly surprising. Carroll's work, and "Jabberwocky" in particular, is very English in its language, both real and invented, in its figures 211 212Rocky Mountain Review (consider the St. George motif in the young boy's encounter with the Jabberwock), and in its tone. Furthermore, the problems of turning "Jabberwocky" into another language are prodigious. As Losel observed in his analysis of the earliest German translation of Alice in Wonderland: Lewis Carroll puts the translator into a difficult position. He takes language at its word and uncovers secret relations between words. A translator requires reliability and constructiveness and, at the same time, an attitude of aloofness to his own product. This precarious balance is almost unattainable for a translator of Alice in Wonderland; he must build up an unconventional world and simultaneously undermine it. (76) Losel's observation is even more applicable to the nearly understandable unreality ofthe language ofthe "Jabberwocky" poem. After briefly reviewing the origin of "Jabberwocky" and offering some dated, but perhaps still meaningful, criteria for evaluating the translation ofnonsensical works, this essay will examine those classical language versions of "Jabberwocky" catalogued by Weaver, together with a few that escaped his notice and some published after his bibliography. I "Jabberwocky," as we have it in the first chapter of Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (published in December 1871), was created in at least two separate phases. Carroll had published privately the initial quatrain — " 'Twas brillig . . . " — as "A Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry" in 1855 in Misch-Masch, one of the family journals he wrote, handlettered, and illustrated for his brothers and sisters (Collingwood, Picture Book 37). The glosses that he added to the fragment's arcane words in Misch-Masch do not in every case agree with the interpretation advanced by Humpty Dumpty, that early master of higher criticism who ended his career through an exercise in deconstruction, in chapter 6 of Through the Looking-Glass. For example, Carroll gives "gyre" the meaning "to scratch like a dog," whereas Humpty Dumpty says it means "to go round and round like a gyroscope." Perhaps Humpty's explanation reflects his own preoccupation with maintaining his balance. Lewis Carroll's nephew and early biographer, Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, proposed the following, obviously erroneous, origin ofthe "Jabberwocky" poem: "the whole poem was composed while Carroll was staying with his cousins, the Misses Wilcox at Whitburn, near Sunderland: 'To while away an evening the whole party sat down to a game of verse-making, and "Jabberwocky" was [Carroll's] contribution' " (Life...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 211-228
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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