John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

Poet's Corner: How doth the little crocodile

Since today is April Fool's Day, and I'm not particularly good at coming up with April Fool's jokes, here instead is a foolish poem:

How Doth the Little Crocodile

How doth the little crocodile
  Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
  On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
  How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
  With gently smiling jaws!

Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)

Something that is lost on many modern readers of Carroll is that many of the poems he wrote for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, including the one above, were parodies of popular poems of the day. Here's the original poem that Carroll was parodying:

Against Idleness and Mischief

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labour or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last

Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748)

Carroll's poem is a particularly skillful parody, in that it parodies both the text and meter of Watts' poem and its moral, by replacing the industrious bee with a lazy crocodile that, instead of hunting, sits back and waits for fish to swim into his mouth.

Watts, incidentally, in today best remembered as a hymnodist. He wrote more than 750 hymns, many of which are still sung today, including "Joy to the World" (lyrics only), "O God Our Help in Ages Past," "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," and "In the Garden of Eden," which was later recorded by Iron Butterfly as "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida."

Tags: poet's corner

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