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## Lewis Carroll’s Hunting Of The Snark Poem, and Its Layers of Meaning

Lewis Carroll prefaces his “poem far from nonsense” with an explanation of one of the lines, to which the seafaring people of his time (the Victorian era when the British navy ruled the seas) might have been the subject of objections to consider that it was not only improbable. but impossible

Articulate how this could be achieved with all the seriousness of a primary school teacher. He seems delighted in this role, as an antidote to his more official role as the Don of Oxford College, England.

In the narrative poem, which he divides into The Agony of the Eight Attacks (reminiscent, of course, of the eight bells of a ship), he has brought us a narrative in a loose rhyming style that is as infectious as Dr. Seuss’s , and the resemblance does. it doesn’t end here. His poem keeps us in a state of suspense for these boatswains as they embark on their fatal journey. Perhaps Lewis had been forced to learn The Ancient Mariner as a child.

If his Alice books were woefully exaggerated corrections of the middle classes, this poem is a mockery of the seriousness with which the English took their navy. The Navy, which Kaiser Wilhelm so envied and was determined to defeat, had been responsible for England’s enormous wealth since Elizabethan times. His greatest achievements in the early 19th century, that of Nelson, and his refuge with the great success of the slave trade, made him a favorite of most Englishmen, especially shopkeepers. Even today it is difficult to write two hundred words without using a nautical word. (see ‘jibe’)

The poem is written in the true style of Dr. Seuss (or maybe it’s the other way around?) describing the motley crew with loving detail and absurd humor. This is a search, not for Melville’s 1851 White Whale (and there are many that will symbolize Moby Dick to pieces), but for a Snark, and one that might be a Boojum Snark. Boojum sounds suspiciously like a Caribbean word to me, but I don’t want to convey my prejudices. However, Carroll must have known that he was, childish champion, Water Babies (1863), a pleasant enough tale but with a black (actually a soot-covered sweeper) and a white baby who finds true happiness under the sea. The Snark actually turns out to be a Boojum Snark, and true to its fearsome legend, the crew member unlucky enough to find it disappears.

True moral tale. Announcing the present when we are all engaged in hunting snarks to the point of our own extinction. Carroll may also have been toying with, or rather inverting, the idea of hunting wild animals to extinction, an idea that just came into play when he wrote. Of course, he was aware that scholars had been doing this for years in Oxford and before the Web, but that’s what makes his story worth paying attention to.

But the poem has more than one moral, or flavor. It also surprisingly encompasses the kind of mathematical puzzle that takes us through a series of calculations to end up where we started. A symbol of the circularity and paradoxes of advanced mathematics.

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