Lewis Carroll

(27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898 / Cheshire)

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Echoes


Lady Clara Vere de Vere
Was eight years old, she said:
Every ringlet, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden thread.

She took her little porringer:
Of me she shall not win renown:
For the baseness of its nature shall have strength to drag her
down.

"Sisters and brothers, little Maid?
There stands the Inspector at thy door:
Like a dog, he hunts for boys who know not two and two are four."

"Kind words are more than coronets,"
She said, and wondering looked at me:
"It is the dead unhappy night, and I must hurry home to tea."

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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  • Thomas Vaughan Jones (2/15/2014 1:48:00 PM)

    Much as I admire Lewis Carroll and his genius, I wish he hadn't called this poem Echoes. Or perhaps, as he got here first, I should have renamed my poem Memories of Different Past or something. Sometimes we are blinded by the name and overlook or forgive them when they drop their standards a little. (Report) Reply

  • Eric Mwenda (2/15/2013 6:44:00 PM)

    Lewis is all about echoes.. from echoes reboundin in mind born he paints us a picture that is just a memory of clara vere de clara who wears a necklase too big for her that it should have dragged her down..she goes ahead to imitate the elder or maybe herself she is the elder sibling..then she looks at me wonderin(maybe she remembers something she is supposed to do, or maybe she keeps up the play) ..the real question is who was lady clara vere de vere to the author, such that that memory comes to him like echos to the ears (Report) Reply

  • Udiah Witness to YAH (2/15/2013 9:04:00 AM)

    One born of common blood becomes a Lady. Truly loved by her Lord Husband to be. And Carroll knew it all along. Sounds like the Lady, took the time to help the poor, even as a small child.

    Thanks for connecting the dots between Tennyson and Carroll, seems they both knew it and were ready to spill the beans until Tennyson found out the Lord truly loved her. (Report) Reply

  • Adele Quested (11/3/2012 10:33:00 AM)

    The poem is called Echoes, and one of the thing it echoes is Tennyson's poem Lady Vere de Vere, in which the titular lady is portrayed as a snobby bitch and a cocktease, for making eyes at the lyrical I without any intention on following through. We are told that the lady has already pulled the same shit on another poor guy, young Laurence, who ended up hanging himself after having his wholesome heart changed to gall by the cruel lady, which I always found somewhat melodramatic - I mean, it's not as if the Lady could have left him pregnant and defiled in the eyes of no longer potential marriage prospect; in the times of unreliable and/or inaccesible birth control, women have always had a harder time externalising the costs of their dalliances. Then the lyrical I declares his own refusal to become the Lady's next conquest, since he blames her entirely for Laurence fatal mental health crisis (the guilt of blood is at your door) and adominishes her to find more fruitful pursuits for her leisure time (eg. teaching orphan children to read and to sew) then playing with the affections of a foolish yoeman.

    Tennyson's poem is pervaded by a profound sense of sexual frustration and victimisation. This might explain how some people could read Caroll's poem as an almost Lolita-esque temptation parable. Tennyson's Lady Vere de Vere might have the most beguiling smile but she is not sexually available to the lyrical I because of class barriers, just as Caroll's Lady Vere de Vere might have the most lovely golden curls but is not sexually available to the lyrical I because she's a freaking child, for Christ's sake. Of course, the moment you have the heartless femme fatale be an 8 year old child, the sense of victimization becomes profoundly ridiculous, which, in my reading, is the main point of Caroll's poem, so clearly designed to mock something or other, considering its embrace of nonsensical lunacy. And if not the lamentations of a jilted lover, now getting all judgey about the moral failings of his unobtainable beloved, what else could be the object of this parody?

    I think it's utterly hilarious that some people here actually read the line but the baseness of its nature shall have strength to drag her down as Carroll evoking some kind of higher authority, advising the youth to beware of baseness, although of course I can't accuse such readers of taking this line too literally, when in fact, they are not taking it literally enough. The baseness of its nature refers the porringer, not the Lady. It's a physical attribute of a container, not a moral attribute of a person. The sense of moral condemnation present in the original poem is evoked too of course, but only to be mocked.

    Caroll's poem then takes a turn for the sinister (as resentiments caused by asymmetrical affections and sexual frustration often do) - the inspector hunting for little boys like a dog and the little girl still out and about in the dead unhappy night heighten the predatory vibes. Using the language of folk tales and nursery rhymes only contributes to that effect, because those genres also often deal with sexual transgressions and children coming to bad ends. The line Kind hearts are more than coronets in Tennyson's poem uttered by the lyrical I, as a lesson for his Lady Vere de Vere to be less shallow and value good morals over noble birth, is here given to the little Lady de Vere herself, while she wonders whether to trust the lyrical I, in a bit of a troubling context, considering that too much trust in the kindness of other people can make you rather vulnerable to predators.

    If Caroll was, as (never conclusively substantiated) rumour would have it, indeed a bit of a pedo himself, he was at least self-ironical about it. (Report) Reply

  • Manonton Dalan (2/15/2012 3:42:00 AM)

    maybe he's picking words randomly
    making it to rhyme while rocking his
    chair. i like the way he said was eight
    years old now most of us are thinking
    what could a eight years old could do?
    how many eight years old out for the night
    and hurry home for tea? hehehehe (Report) Reply

  • Jimmy Wrangler (2/15/2010 5:54:00 PM)

    Maybe if you had lived in his time, most of this would fall into place. However, it's all Greek to me. (Report) Reply

  • Terence George Craddock (2/15/2010 6:38:00 AM)

    What would you expect from a man who writes under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, because he was an Anglican deacon, mathematician, logician, photographer and English author? Maybe you need to consider the touch of the Irish in his blood to understand him? Or remember that this is the man who wrote, 'Jabberwocky', a hidden Jacobite satire? And Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Carroll clearly delights in word play, logic, and fantasy, and his genre of literary nonsense is obviously intended to entertain. Like Edgar Alan Poe the concept of the poem read aloud with the interaction of the spoken word is important to Carroll, who clearly intends to entertain with this poem.
    The title Echoes hints perhaps at childhood memories and the poem contains elements of the rhyme of children’s nursery rhymes. Other echoes imbedded are, the titled Lady Clara Vere de Vere, imitating the commanding manner of her elders in her class position within society, a typical game an eight year old, would play. The description of her, ‘Every ringlet, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden thread’ affirms her social position, reads like fairy tale and reminds of the tale of Rumpelstiltskin. Carroll is spinning a poetic tale instead of straw into gold. The dwarf Rumpelstiltskin who spun gold, revealed his name in a song; of the many translations of this song, the 1886 translation by Lucy Crane is intriguing, because the capitals of her name are echoed in Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s pseudonym, Lewis Carroll.
    ‘She took her little porringer: ’ reminds of Little Jack Horner and his thumb, porringer playing on the double meaning of finger and small bowl. The line ‘For the baseness of its nature shall have strength to drag her down’ reinforces this reading and reminds us that Lady Clara is only a little girl, with apparently bad eating habits.
    ‘There stands the Inspector at thy door: ’ is the moral and warning that children must study lessons. It reminds of Wee Willie Winkie checking upon children at night. Again the echo of the nursery rhyme Rumpelstiltskin because Rumpelstilzchen in the original German means literally ‘little rumble stilt’; the rumpelstilt or rumpelstilz was a type of goblin, that makes noises by rattling posts and rapping on planks, similar to rumpelgeist rattle ghost or polterghost. Like Wee Willie Winkie tapping upon doors at night, Carroll is building suspense in children, expecting the Inspector to tap at the door at any moment. Is ‘more than coronets’ a reference to Jacobite songs in which Willie Winkie referred King William III of England? Carroll employs such a rich usage of puns and instructs the moral importance of kindness definitively, stating ‘Kind words are more than coronets’, meaning kindness is greater than a coronet; which is a small crown, usually worn by a prince or a peer and not a reigning monarch. Does ‘It is the dead unhappy night’ warn of polterghosts at play? Carroll is definitely having fun playing with us his audience in this poem, both adults and children. (Report) Reply

  • Joseph Poewhit (2/15/2010 2:51:00 AM)

    Strange poem with much deph. Sort of speaks of higher authority and advising youth to beware of baseness.The inspector at the door, reaches mortal man, to GOD in heaven, watching the earth. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (2/15/2010 12:56:00 AM)

    A sort of confusing poem by Lewis Carroll! It may be suitable for the kids to decipher out what it is! (Report) Reply

  • 32 2 (3/3/2007 10:18:00 PM)

    Obviously some kind of derivative poem of Tennyson's Lady Clara Vere de Vere... Carroll had a well-known preoccupation with children so this poem may express that aspect of Lady Clara in some way?

    All in all a really confusing piece. It sounds nice though. (Report) Reply

  • Robert Christensen (6/15/2006 5:40:00 PM)

    Now this is a challenge to explain... What could this poem
    mean? ? ? Leave it to classic poets to make it complicated.
    *sigh* I will have to figure it out another time. (Report) Reply

Read all 17 comments »

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