a big beautiful mess

Russian Jabberwocky


Yesterday, fumbling for a last-minute lesson plan for my night class, I decided to have students (all two of them) read Lewis Carroll’s poem¬†“Jabberwocky.”¬†If you haven’t read it or don’t remember it, here’s the text.

They were horrified at how many words they didn’t know, until I told them that a lot of the words were made up. Then they were just confused. We went line by line through the poem, and I asked them to tell me what they thought each made up word might mean. They finally got into it a little, and came up with some fun interpretations.

In the first stanza, they decided the “slithy toves” were happy animals of some sort, since “gyre” and “gimble” sounded carefree and positive to them. The “borogoves” were large, bull-like animals of a dark color, and they were also happy. The “mome raths” were the mothers of the borogoves, making some sort of loud noise.

Some of the other definitions they decided on:

  • frumious: furious and dangerous
  • whiffling: moving so quickly that it makes the trees whistle
  • tulgey: dark and somber
  • galumphing: running very fast

Then, we watched two clips of different readings of “Jabberwocky,” this one of an adorable little girl reciting the poem:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTvNIxeipqs&w=420&h=315]

And this one, a classical reading by an enthusiastic British man:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNFmHyXdJJ8&w=420&h=315]

They liked the first one better (for obvious reasons), but found the second one easier to understand. They also brought up the difference between the readings of “one, two! one, two!” and argued that the girl’s reading was better, because “snicker-snack” seemed like a fast sound, rather than a slow one.

Overall, I was impressed by what they came up with, considering the fact that they were obviously skeptical about the purpose of the exercise. But I think it helped to get them thinking about figuring out what words mean based on context, breaking their dependency on their phone translators a little bit.


  1. 2 February 2012    

    “…breaking their dependency on their phone translators a little bit,” she chortled in her joy.

    • 2 February 2012    

      hahaha this comment made me chortle.

  2. 2 February 2012    

    this was also my last week wednesday night experience; a room of Russians, one British girl, and myself discussed historic photographs of Lewis, including quite sort of 1800’s erotic author with daughter/little girl/lover photographs; and the Russians debated whether the photos were derogatory or artistic. We then proceeded to review the Jabberwocky poem, which elicited the same response, and ended with Burton’s version of the film, which was surprisingly disliked.

    • 2 February 2012    

      Oh interesting! Yeah, those photographs are food for thought no matter what country you’re from, I think.

  3. Birgitta Birgitta
    20 February 2012    

    Mome raths…mom raths…I see the connection! I really want to do this poem with my elderly students this summer!

    • 20 February 2012    

      That is exactly how it went down, Birgitta! Let me know how it goes if you do use it :)

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