…Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —/
Of cabbages — and kings —”
” “The Walrus and the Carpenter” is a narrative poem by Lewis Carroll that appeared in his book Through the Looking-Glass, published in December 1871. The poem is recited in chapter four, by Tweedledum and Tweedledee to Alice. The poem is composed of 18 stanzas and contains 108 lines, in an alternation of iambic tetrameters and iambic trimeters. The rhyme scheme is ABCBDB, with masculine rhymes throughout. The rhyming and rhythmical scheme used, as well as some archaisms and syntactical turns, are those of the traditional English ballad.
The Walrus and the Carpenter are the eponymous characters in the poem, which is recited by Tweedledum and Tweedledee to Alice. Walking upon a beach one night when both sun and moon are visible, the Walrus and Carpenter come upon an offshore bed of oysters. Groups of four are called up; the exact number is unknown. To the disapproval of the eldest oyster, many more follow them. After walking along the beach (a point is made of the fact that the oysters are all neatly shod despite having no feet), the two main characters are revealed to be predatory and eat all of the oysters. After hearing the poem, the good-natured Alice attempts to determine which of the two leading characters might be the more sympathetic, but is thwarted by the twins’ further interpretation:
” “I like the Walrus best,” said Alice: “because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters.”
“He ate more than the Carpenter, though,” said Tweedledee. “You see he held his handkerchief in front, so that the Carpenter couldn’t count how many he took: contrariwise.”
“That was mean!” Alice said indignantly. “Then I like the Carpenter best—if he didn’t eat so many as the Walrus.”
“But he ate as many as he could get,” said Tweedledum.
This was a puzzler. After a pause, Alice began, “Well! They were both very unpleasant characters—” ”
…in The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner notes that, when Carroll gave the manuscript for Looking Glass to illustrator John Tenniel, he gave him the choice of drawing a carpenter, a butterfly, or a baronet, since each word would fit the poem’s metre. Because Tenniel rather than Carroll chose the carpenter, the character’s significance in the poem is probably not in his profession, and interpretations of the poem as a commentary on religion are likely false. Gardner cautions the reader that there is not always intended symbolism in the Alice books, which were made for the imagination of children…
In the Beatles 1967 song “I Am the Walrus”, the walrus refers to the walrus in the book. John Lennon later expressed dismay upon belatedly realising that the walrus was a villain in the poem…”