“A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary” – Thomas Carruthers

(I have no idea who Thomas Carruthers is except for the fact that he’s credited with a pretty great quote.  I’ve been meaning to write on “The Hunting of the Snark” for a while and how it relates to me (and this blog), but it turned out to be longer than I anticipated.  So, I’m releasing it in chunks!  Meaty chunks.)

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

I can’t remember the first time I read “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll nor can I say that I particularly enjoyed Carroll’s works when I was young.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was a teacher myself, at a small international school in Taipei, that I began to appreciate Carroll’s tiny gem.  With this poem, I could teach my students (many of whom came from non-English-speaking backgrounds) poetry terms (verse, quatrain, rhyme scheme, rhythm, consonance),  I could review the plot diagram (exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement), I could emphasize the importance of grammar (despite not knowing the words, you can figure out the story based on its preservation of grammatical sentence structure, and also, by interpreting a “fake” word as a predicate nominative or a predicate adjective change the whole picture), I could insert creative options (illustrating, dramatizing, singing), and finally, I could remind my students that even Carroll himself snubbed the dogma of a rigid education.

The more I studied “Jabberwocky”, the more enchanted I became, and later I began to read Carroll’s other famous poem (or should I say An Agony in Eight Fits), “The Hunting of the Snark.”  The above portion is excerpted from the poem’s main refrain (and if you haven’t noticed, is also the inspiration behind my blog title).  I like this idea of an adventure quest.  And this hunting of a Snark has all the elements of an epic quest sprinkled with Carrollian twists and turns.

I bring this in partly because I love the poem, but also because it reflects a lot of what I’m doing right now – pursuing something magical, perhaps nonexistent, with a box of tools that appear rather bare.  [Thimbles, care, forks, hope, railway-share (whatever that is), smiles, and soap?]   And the rhymes are just so whimsical and perfect.

To be continued…

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One response to ““A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary” – Thomas Carruthers

  1. Great idea, using LC as an entrée into the mechanics of prosody.
    You’re right about the Snark, it functions on many levels and the quest aspect is at the core, I think. This questing theme is ancient in English poetry and LC used it over & over in his many works.

    The quest in this poem is multiple but the linguistic aspect is pretty heavy: how do you construct meaning with non-meaning?

    I did a GN version of the poem and curiously enough, like you, I tried to sneak in some educational themes, although more along visual arts, architecture, philosophy, etc.

    the Believer did a fun piece about Jabberwocky in Chinese recently, if you haven’t read it, drop me a line.

    best of luck
    Mahendra Singh

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