Friday poem: 'You are Old, Father William'

27 May 2016

By Lewis Carroll
 
'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 for that?'
By
 
'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 a 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.'
 
 

From Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Carroll parodies many well-known Victorian poems for children in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. ‘You are Old, Father William’ was based on Robert Southey’s ‘The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them’, a didactic verse that would have been familiar to many of Carroll’s readers. 
 
Like much Victorian children’s poetry, Southey’s poem was written for recital, however, when Alice tries to say the poem aloud in Wonderland she finds that ‘some of the words have got altered’.
 
All this talk of Lewis Carroll made us nostalgic for the poetry we enjoyed as children; read some of our favourites here
 
The Complete Alice: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There is out now. 

 

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