Lewis Caroll also known as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898) is primarily famous for his work Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland published in 1865. However, there were many a publications of moderate success in his name already. He is noted for his facility at word play, logic, and fantasy. From a young age, Dodgson wrote poetry and short stories, both contributing heavily to the family magazine Mischmasch and later sending them to various magazines, enjoying moderate success. Between 1854 and 1856, his work appeared in the national publications, The Comic Times and The Train, as well as smaller magazines like the Whitby Gazette and the Oxford Critic. Most of this output was humorous, sometimes satirical, but his standards and ambitions were exacting.
About the poem – It is a poem recited by the Mad Hatter in chapter seven of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). It is a parody of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.
The poem seems to question the activities of a bat which appears to be a mysterious and even a mystical creature whose daily on goings are a mystery to the speaker. Though the bat does not appear to have any structural affinity with a tea tray it has been compared to one.
The theme of the poem is simply a musing on the activity and ontology of a bat but we could also suggest that this appears to be a nonsense poem and the theme is only the manifestation of this nonsense.
Apparently the tone of the poem is that of surprise or amusement at the antics of the bat but being informed of the real purport of the book of Caroll we could not simply stop at the conclusion that the poem is a piece of nonsense. The style is simple enough to be of enjoyment to little children who were the primary target audience of the book. But as is suggested earlier the simplicity could be very deceptive and may be pregnant with many hidden agendas. The fact that it is a parody of a popular rhyme – Twinkle, Twinkle little Star makes it both blameless and guilty of subversion of the popular standards of the time. In fact the book is a parody of the manners and times of Victorian England. It is curious that the word ‘Twinkle’ is not an onomatopoeic word as it appears to be since the word does not represent the sound of the object. The sound of the star is actually not heard by human ears (it is registered by highly sophisticated radio machinery if the star happens to be a pulsar!). The word is actually a visual onomatopoeia (if there could be an expression like that!) where the blinking of the stars has been popularly rendered as ‘twinkle’.
Caroll has been criticising the absurdity of the linguistic over-decorativeness in both literature and everyday use and just by using a word in as absurd a use as it was always used he might be satirizing the entire traditionness of the linguistic practices of English as a language. This feature of the poem is more remarkable when we bring into attention the fact that the poem is basically a parody. A parody is a work which generally makes fun of some other work of authority and reputation by disgruntling and twisting its features by the means of exaggeration or minimalization. Here Caroll takes on a popular icon of a nursery rhyme to twist its absurdity out into the open. The parody is reinforced by the absurdity of the structural comparison of the bat and the tray. It appears that it was done primarily to make the rhyme but the absurdity and ‘no-rhyme-no-reason’ actually heightens the element of parody. Bats are actually shy creatures and mysterious. The speaker is clueless about the bat and not so much as the child in the original rhyme. After all the rhyme is recited by the Mad Hatter who is, well, mad! Thus the character is in rhyme with what he says and therefore the rhyme is after all not so nonsensical.
The poem seems to be speaking about the inability of the speaker to understand the motives of the bat. Now, “The Bat” was the nickname of Professor Bartholomew Price, one of the Dons at Oxford, a former teacher of Carroll’s and well known to Alice Liddell’s family. Caroll might be satirizing his ‘nutty’ professor as well. Professor Bartholomew was a mathematician who might appear a little ‘nutty’ to Caroll and thus he was nicknamed as bat since bats are often diagnosed as crazy. The character in the poem – Mad Hatter, is also mad and thus his talking about the bat makes enough ‘sense’.
The image of the bat specially being compared with a flying tea tray is remarkable since symmetrical comparisons are as interesting as asymmetrical ones. Again, a bat usually is not known for flying very high but the image of the bat over the world is hyberbolic and thus foregrounds our attention in to the lines. By its apparent nonsense and its rhyming lines the poem is as good a nursery rhyme as its original was.
Though sometimes it is the work of a critic to find meanings where there are none but Caroll leaves enough for the hungry critics to pick on and chomp into. Besides the concept of the parody in which the postmodernists are so very interested in the nursery rhyme like innocence hiding so much of satire is also significant.
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