Tag Archives: Lewis Carroll

What Hiawatha Probably Did (And So Did Lewis Carroll)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1802-1882), a great American poet and the author of The Song of Hiawatha, had also been an object of parodies. Admittedly, it would be improper for anyone interested in poetry not to imitate Hiawatha‘s verse and rhythm; but parodies are a different kind of exercise. One of the most famous was composed by Rev. George Alfred Strong. He rewrote all of The Song‘s 94 stanzas. The passage below is sometimes attributed to him, sometimes to an anonymous author, but gives a good feel of the main traits of Longfellow’s poem that made it a target for parodists (John Wesley Morris, an American geographer and writer, explained it well in his own parody (below)).

What Hiawatha Probably Did (G. A. Strong after H. W. Longfellow)

improved version

He slew the noble Mudjekeewis,
With his skin he made them mittens;
Made them with the fur-side inside,
Made them with the skin-side outside;
He, to keep the warm side inside,
Put the cold side, skin-side, outside;
He, to keep the cold side outside,
Put the warm side, fur-side, inside: –
That’s why he put the cold side outside,
Why he put the warm side inside,
Why he turned them inside outside.

(Is it only me who thinks this improved version makes a perfect tongue twister?? – JD)

What I Think of Hiawatha (John Wesley Morris)

Do you ask me what I think of
This new song of Hiawatha,
With its legends and traditions,
And its frequent repetitions
Of hard names which make the jaw ache,
And of words most unpoetic?
I should answer, I should tell you
I esteem it wild and wayward,
Slipshod metre, scanty sense,
Honour paid to Mudjekeewis,
But no honour to the muse.
However, The Song‘s fame spread far beyond the United States, and in England Lewis Carroll was inspired to compose his own homage to the opportunities for parodies Longfellow’s poem presented. What is important to remember is that Carroll himself was an avid photographer, which is noted throughout the poem. He was well familiar not only with the technique of taking a photo, but was very observant of the sitters’ reactions: how they wanted to look more beautiful and noble, and how these efforts usually fell through. Amazingly, it seems his observations stand true to this day.

Reading Carroll’s poem made me remember one afternoon at school. I had a classmate who I thought was very beautiful. She carried herself straight (a bit unlike me in those days), well aware of her “assets”: wavy hair, blue eyes, a straight nose… As you know, though, it is highly immodest to carry your beauty without a tiny bit of self-deprecation. So, that afternoon between the classes she went to the mirror, to comb her hair. Those of us who didn’t leave the room all sat and watched her; when she turned to us, she was beautiful in the proper sense of the word: her hair was well done, her eyes were shining, a complete picture of teenage prettiness. She noticed our gazes; and, making her way to her seat, announced loudly:

I can’t bear looking at myself, I’m ugly as a cow!

One can only ever wonder
What she’d say about her picture,
Even most finest picture
Ever made by Hiawatha 

(my impromtu thus confirming the ease with which one can revisit the famous poem of Longfellow)

Hiawatha’s Photographing (Lewis Carroll)

[In an age of imitation, I can claim no special merit for this
slight attempt at doing what is known to be so easy. Any fairly
practised writer, with the slightest ear for rhythm, could compose,
for hours together, in the easy running metre of ‘The Song of
Hiawatha.’ Having, then, distinctly stated that I challenge no
attention in the following little poem to its merely verbal jingle,
I must beg the candid reader to confine his criticism to its
treatment of the subject.
]

From his shoulder Hiawatha
Took the camera of rosewood,
Made of sliding, folding rosewood;
Neatly put it all together.
In its case it lay compactly,
Folded into nearly nothing;

But he opened out the hinges,
Pushed and pulled the joints and hinges,
Till it looked all squares and oblongs,
Like a complicated figure
In the Second Book of Euclid.

This he perched upon a tripod –
Crouched beneath its dusky cover –
Stretched his hand, enforcing silence –
Said, “Be motionless, I beg you!”
Mystic, awful was the process.

All the family in order
Sat before him for their pictures:
Each in turn, as he was taken,
Volunteered his own suggestions,
His ingenious suggestions.

First the Governor, the Father:
He suggested velvet curtains
Looped about a massy pillar;
And the corner of a table,
Of a rosewood dining-table.
He would hold a scroll of something,
Hold it firmly in his left-hand;
He would keep his right-hand buried
(Like Napoleon) in his waistcoat;
He would contemplate the distance
With a look of pensive meaning,
As of ducks that die ill tempests.

Grand, heroic was the notion:
Yet the picture failed entirely:
Failed, because he moved a little,
Moved, because he couldn’t help it.

Next, his better half took courage;
SHE would have her picture taken.
She came dressed beyond description,
Dressed in jewels and in satin
Far too gorgeous for an empress.
Gracefully she sat down sideways,
With a simper scarcely human,
Holding in her hand a bouquet
Rather larger than a cabbage.
All the while that she was sitting,
Still the lady chattered, chattered,
Like a monkey in the forest.
“Am I sitting still?” she asked him.
“Is my face enough in profile?
Shall I hold the bouquet higher?
Will it came into the picture?”
And the picture failed completely.

Next the Son, the Stunning-Cantab:
He suggested curves of beauty,
Curves pervading all his figure,
Which the eye might follow onward,
Till they centered in the breast-pin,
Centered in the golden breast-pin.
He had learnt it all from Ruskin
(Author of ‘The Stones of Venice,’
‘Seven Lamps of Architecture,’
‘Modern Painters,’ and some others);
And perhaps he had not fully
Understood his author’s meaning;
But, whatever was the reason,
All was fruitless, as the picture
Ended in an utter failure.

Next to him the eldest daughter:
She suggested very little,
Only asked if he would take her
With her look of ‘passive beauty.’

Her idea of passive beauty
Was a squinting of the left-eye,
Was a drooping of the right-eye,
Was a smile that went up sideways
To the corner of the nostrils.

Hiawatha, when she asked him,
Took no notice of the question,
Looked as if he hadn’t heard it;
But, when pointedly appealed to,
Smiled in his peculiar manner,
Coughed and said it ‘didn’t matter,’
Bit his lip and changed the subject.

Nor in this was he mistaken,
As the picture failed completely.

So in turn the other sisters.

Last, the youngest son was taken:
Very rough and thick his hair was,
Very round and red his face was,
Very dusty was his jacket,
Very fidgety his manner.
And his overbearing sisters
Called him names he disapproved of:
Called him Johnny, ‘Daddy’s Darling,’
Called him Jacky, ‘Scrubby School-boy.’
And, so awful was the picture,
In comparison the others
Seemed, to one’s bewildered fancy,
To have partially succeeded.

Finally my Hiawatha
Tumbled all the tribe together,
(‘Grouped’ is not the right expression),
And, as happy chance would have it
Did at last obtain a picture
Where the faces all succeeded:
Each came out a perfect likeness.

Then they joined and all abused it,
Unrestrainedly abused it,
As the worst and ugliest picture
They could possibly have dreamed of.
‘Giving one such strange expressions –
Sullen, stupid, pert expressions.
Really any one would take us
(Any one that did not know us)
For the most unpleasant people!’
(Hiawatha seemed to think so,
Seemed to think it not unlikely).
All together rang their voices,
Angry, loud, discordant voices,
As of dogs that howl in concert,
As of cats that wail in chorus.

But my Hiawatha’s patience,
His politeness and his patience,
Unaccountably had vanished,
And he left that happy party.
Neither did he leave them slowly,
With the calm deliberation,
The intense deliberation
Of a photographic artist:
But he left them in a hurry,
Left them in a mighty hurry,
Stating that he would not stand it,
Stating in emphatic language
What he’d be before he’d stand it.
Hurriedly he packed his boxes:
Hurriedly the porter trundled
On a barrow all his boxes:
Hurriedly he took his ticket:
Hurriedly the train received him:
Thus departed Hiawatha.

Llandudno Diaries – 3

I arrived to Llandudno at about 5pm on Friday, 28th of December 2007. The wind and rain met me at the station, as well as two lines of taxis, with no drivers inside. Turned out, my train arrived earlier, and the drivers were all away to shops. I joined an elderly gentleman and a family couple at the taxi office. By the time I was on my own, we started talking with the lady in the reception. Turned out, she was quite familiar with Manchester: she was a part of the Jewish community who regularly travel from Llandudno to Salford. Then my taxi arrived, and a few minutes later I was in Craig-y-Don where I were to stay until January 6th 2008.

Craig-y-Don means “rock by the water”, and Dave Thompson tells us in his illustrated book about Llandudno that this area became popular with residents after the First World War. On the first walk “into town” when I don’t actually know yet where to go, the place seems to be quite far away from the town centre. But as you get to discover all the different ways to get from Craig-y-Don Parade to Trinity Church in Mostyn St, you’ll soon realise that it doesn’t actually take that long.

Llandudno itself boasts a remarkable history. The origins of the place date back as early as the Bronze Age, and the remains of the Bronze Age Copper Mines located on the Great Orme is a great tourist attraction, allowing you to explore 250ft below the surface. There, on the Great Orme, is also the church of St Tudno. The church takes its name from the site of a small monastic community founded by the Welsh Christian missionary in the 6th c. AD. I haven’t visited it, but Thompson notes that the church “still has some ancient features within it including a splendid twelfth-century font”.

The fate of Llandudno was apparently determined by the Liverpool Architect Owen Williams in 1840s. The image on the left is that of The King’s Head where Williams reportedly remarked that this bay area would make an ideal watering place. His words were related to The Hon. Edward Mostyn MP who had already had plans to exploit the area of Llandudno as a potential summer resort. Some time before Williams’s prophetic remark Lord Mostyn, with the support of the Bishop of Bangor, was able to obtain through the Parliament “the sole rights to develop the low isthmus between the north and west shores”. Williams was commissioned with the survey which, when completed, presented Llandudno as a lovely seaside town, “shaped with a grid of spacious thoroughfares and a sweeping promenade”.

Although it wasn’t Williams who undertook the final planning and building, the progress of Llandudno was compelling, given its unrivalled popularity with the masses, the royalty, and the men-of-arts. It is still disputed whether or not Lewis Carroll visited Llandudno, but even without him there are enough names among Llandudno’s patrons to make any other town of its caliber blush with envy: Napoleon III, Disraeli, Gladstone, Bismarck, to name but a few. The Queen Elizabeth of Roumania, who wrote under the pen name of Carmen Sylva (commemorated in the name of one of the streets in Craig-y-Don), stayed here for five weeks in 1890. Buffalo Bill came here with his Wild West Show in 1904. The Beatles performed at The Odeon in Llandudno in 1963, and the last person to ever appear on the Odeon’s stage was Billy Connolly in 1986.

For references, I am indebted to Dave Thompson’s Llandudno (Images of Wales series, Tempus, 2005).

To be continued…

Llandudno Diaries – 2

This stay in Llandudno was a good break from the city’s hustle and bustle, and some of you may already have checked my Flickr albums. Richard over at the BBC Manchester Blog was wondering what I would be doing in Llandudno for quite a long period of time. Indeed, I arrived on December 28th and was planning to leave on January 6th, which I did, only instead of taking a train to Manchester I went to Deganwy and stayed for another two nights at Deganwy Castle Hotel. I did a plenty of sightseeing in Llandudno but, being a peregrinating type, I did day trips to Conwy, Caernarfon, and Beaumaris. In case if Richard and all of you are wondering further, I don’t have a car, so my pilgrimages were assisted to a degree by buses, which means, I suppose, that on occasion my eye has caught something I would’ve overlooked, if sitting in the car. On the other hand, not having a car restricts your freedom, so hopefully next time I go to Wales either I’ll be driving myself or I’ll have a car and a driver.

Flickr sets:
I finally made it to Manchester on January 8th, but if I am totally honest with myself and with you, I didn’t want to leave. I had to return to Manchester, not least because I accepted the invitation to a friend’s housewarming party. Richard is absolutely right that there isn’t much to do in Llandudno, but it’s what outside Llandudno that makes the whole journey purposeful. And I don’t even have to mention castles – I can only mention Llandudno Bay and the Great Orme, which look different every time you see them. The houses on the slopes of the Great Orme, when lit up in the evening, reminded me of one image Henry Miller evoked in The Colossus of Maroussi: a Greek valley where stood houses in which windows the lights were coming up was like a bowl with cherries. And it was this bowl that I was thinking of every evening when I looked at the Great Orme from my hotel lounge where I sat uploading photographs to Flickr.

I still haven’t explained why I chose Llandudno. Back in October, I visualised some of the scenes and was convinced that the story would take place somewhere at the seaside. The choice had more to do with how much I actually knew the British seaside towns and cities. The fact is that I know them very poorly. If I am to be very honest, I think my knowledge is currently divided between two “pools”: Blackpool and Liverpool. From either “pool” I couldn’t think of a spot to pull out where I’d want my characters to find themselves. Suddenly I remembered about my short walk along Llandudno Promenade, and then I vividly imagined the wintery bay and the winds. I looked up some photos on Flickr and was convinced that this was the place to set up the story.

But then I began to research further, and I realised that there may have been another reason for why I chose Llandudno for my story, although it only came up during research. It’s been years since I watched a Russian cartoon after Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and read both books. It was in Llandudno that the Liddell family used to stay, and there are still speculations about whether or not Carroll himself visited the Liddells in Llandudno. There are also speculations on the nature of his relationship with Alice Liddell who was the inspiration for both stories. My view on this occasion is that it probably doesn’t matter much whether or not Carroll went to Llandudno. If he did, his imagination would be assisted by personal experience. If he didn’t, his genius, as it dazzles us in two books about Alice, shines even brighter.

What cannot be denied is that both books are, as one often calls it, the labour of love. And it is significant for me that both these books are fairy tales. They could be love poems, of course, and then we might have had something of a Victorian equivalent of The Divine Comedy. They could be novellas or a novel. But they are fairy tales. Without going too much in depth about my story, I can say that it explores this connection between love and a fairy tale, childhood and adulthood and the possibility to move between the two. There are other examples, of course, of similar kind of writing for children, and J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan may be the first to come to mind. Ultimately, one of the questions the story is asking is why fairy tales may be so important even when one seems old enough to get by without them; and what it takes to be able to tell a fairy tale.

To be continued…