In Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” the poet uses nonsense words to create meaning through the context of the poem and through the words that are near the nonsense words. Such words as gyre, gimble, mimsy, Bandersnatch and galumphing are few of the words that Carroll uses to describe character’s behavior, the condition of objects and to give name to the fantastical creatures he creates. Carroll’s choice of creating nonsense words to fill a meaning he wanted to illustrate because of the lack of words that fit his needs shows that the English language is very flexible as well as new forms and new styles of poetry are formed each day.
Seven stanzas make up the structure of the “Jabberwocky”: each of the stanzas builds up the tension through the use of the nonsense words and the connotation/feelings that they bring up on the reader. According to Dr. Bruce Lockerbie, “Connotation assumes the experience of the reader, either his actual or his imaginative experience” and he also gives a standard dictionary definition, “Connotation: the figurative sense, the suggested application of a word” (691). Both of the definitions provided by Lockerbie help explain how Carroll creates tension using nonsense words. For example, the lines, “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!/ He chortled in his joy” (ll 23-34). The words “frabjous”, “Callooh”, and “Callay” are nonsense words that are not normally found in the English dictionary, however we can assume by the connotation that they are a way of expressing joy and cheer. Furthermore the second line, which states the father chortled in joy, cements our assumption, as the definition of chortled is to chuckle gleefully. Another piece of evidence that cements the idea that these words are a way of expressing joy is because the word, “”frabjous”, has a part of its word that sounds like joyous. A reader’s previous experience will tell him or her that frabjous, Callooh and Callay are of celebratory nature.
The opening and closing stanza are the same and they serve the function of bringing the poem full circle as well as giving a new connotation to the same stanza. The first stanza opens up with, “’Twas brillig and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:” and it is followed by “All mimsy were the borogoves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe” (1-4). The first two lines tell the reader what time of day it s because of the use of the word ‘Twas brillig” as well as the conditions of the day through the words slithy, outgrabe and wabe. The definition of brillig can be found by looking at the “‘twas” which is used to describe a state of being, e.g. “Twas the night before Christmas”. In the example the state of being that is described is that of the night. We then can conclude that brillig is a state of being. This reasoning can be applied as well to the words outgrabe, wabe gyre and gimble. Where the words gyre and gimble are describing a state of being. Line four of the poem, “And the mome raths outgrabe”, make the opening stanza a lot more interesting because according to dictionary.com mome is defined as a fool; blockhead and rath as growing, blooming, or ripening early in the year or season (dictionary.com). Because of these definitions the reader can assume that the poem takes place during the spring when the pollen count is high. However when the poem ends with the same stanza the son has already killed the Jabberwocky and the stanza now describes the state of being of the place. It is interesting to note that even after the jabberwocky has been killed the atmosphere remains the same as if nothing had changed.
The rhyme scheme is something else that contributes to the poem as it starts out in a “a b a b” rhyme it is broken by the time the reader reaches the fifth stanza because that brake in the rhyme scheme follows the chaotic atmosphere that is describes the fifth and sixth stanza. The word choice of the first three stanzas creates an ominous feeling to the poem as the speaker warns his or her son “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!/ The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!” (5-6). The words jaw, bite, claw catch have a harsh sound to it and create a tension and uneasiness when its being read. The combination of these words plus the word beware also set up the plot of the story, but the tension that is created is not much and it is not so blunt. However in the fourth stanza the tone of the poem changes into a more dark tone. The shift of tone is reflected again the word choice of the poem: “with eyes of flame”, “Came whiffling”, and “and burbled as it came” (2-3). . The images that the word choice creates a sense of fear and danger that in turn creates tension and makes the story more interesting to the reader. In both stanza, however there is still a rhyme scheme that can be seen as soon as the son starts to battle the Jobberwock the rhyme scheme is broken and is not restored until the final stanza. The ending of each of the lines in the fifth and sixth stanza are, “through/ snicker-snack!/ head/ back/ Jabberwock/ boy/ Callay!/ joy” (17-24). None of these words rhyme because the break of the rhyme scheme in this section of the poem follows the action that is being described in the both stanzas. By doing this it feels more chaotic and is more in line with the movements of a fight.
Nonsense poems have words that at first may not appear to have meaning, but if they are analyzed and closely read you can find that those nonsense words have meaning and because of the meaning they contain different interpretations can arise from a single nonsense word.
Lockerbie, D Bruce. Poetry: “Denotation and Connotation”. Jstor. The English Journal
Vol. 53, Vol. 9 Dec. 1964. P691. Web. 05 February 4, 2014.
Dictionary.com. “Mome”. Dictionary.com. Web. 03 February 2014.
Dictionary.com. “Rathe”. Dictionary.com. Web. 04 February 2014.