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Featured Poem: Melancholetta by Lewis Carroll

Written by Lizzie Cain, 27th January 2014

Today's Featured Poem comes from Sophie Chilvers, our new Communications and Development Intern.

Famous for his nonsense poetry and prose, today we celebrate Lewis Carroll’s  182nd Birthday. Author of the renowned fantasy text Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, his tale remains ever-popular with children and adults alike, whilst modern adaptations are still being produced over a hundred and fifty years after the original’s publication. The anniversary of his birth started me thinking about the importance of nonsense in our daily lives, the life and laughter it can bring to the seemingly ordinary.

The title of my chosen poem is 'Melancholetta', and through this heading Carroll suggests that something dark and dreary is about to be imposed upon us. Yet, on reading this surprisingly energetic and wonderfully funny poem, I could not help but smile the further down the page I read. His upbeat rhythm, joyful rhyme and clever wordplay make this poem anything but melancholy. Whilst Carroll depicts the woeful ways of a young lady wrapped in sadness and unable to surpass her grief (‘nought could cheer it!), the reader is provided with a welcome surprise as the poem takes on a comic element.

Not only does Carroll ask us to embrace nonsense and the ridiculous in his work, this poem equally reminds us of the importance of art and the creative:

I took my sister t'other day
(Excuse the slang expression)
To Sadler's Wells to see the play
In hopes the new impression
Might in her thoughts, from grave to gay
Effect some slight digression.

Two things seems to be at work here; as we are told of how he hoped exposure to the arts might help his grieving sister, simultaneously we as readers enter into this process, finding  joy, relief and excitement in his poem. He elevates the importance of creativity within our lives- whether that be reading, writing, painting or cooking- as a form of escape or ‘slight digression’ from the difficulties of life.

So as we near the end of the typically melancholic month of January, and Spring thankfully seems that little bit nearer, be sure to allow the creative, the fantastical and importantly the nonsensical into your everyday life.


WITH saddest music all day long
She soothed her secret sorrow:
At night she sighed "I fear 'twas wrong
Such cheerful words to borrow.
Dearest, a sweeter, sadder song
I'll sing to thee to-morrow."

I thanked her, but I could not say
That I was glad to hear it:
I left the house at break of day,
And did not venture near it
Till time, I hoped, had worn away
Her grief, for nought could cheer it!

My dismal sister! Couldst thou know
The wretched home thou keepest!
Thy brother, drowned in daily woe,
Is thankful when thou sleepest;
For if I laugh, however low,
When thou'rt awake, thou weepest!

I took my sister t'other day
(Excuse the slang expression)
To Sadler's Wells to see the play
In hopes the new impression
Might in her thoughts, from grave to gay
Effect some slight digression.

I asked three gay young dogs from town
To join us in our folly,
Whose mirth, I thought, might serve to drown
My sister's melancholy:
The lively Jones, the sportive Brown,
And Robinson the jolly.

The maid announced the meal in tones
That I myself had taught her,
Meant to allay my sister's moans
Like oil on troubled water:
I rushed to Jones, the lively Jones,
And begged him to escort her.

Vainly he strove, with ready wit,
To joke about the weather -
To ventilate the last 'ON DIT' -
To quote the price of leather -
She groaned "Here I and Sorrow sit:
Let us lament together!"

I urged "You're wasting time, you know:
Delay will spoil the venison."
"My heart is wasted with my woe!
There is no rest - in Venice, on
The Bridge of Sighs!" she quoted low
From Byron and from Tennyson.

I need not tell of soup and fish
In solemn silence swallowed,
The sobs that ushered in each dish,
And its departure followed,
Nor yet my suicidal wish
To BE the cheese I hollowed.

Some desperate attempts were made
To start a conversation;
"Madam," the sportive Brown essayed,
"Which kind of recreation,
Hunting or fishing, have you made
Your special occupation?"

Her lips curved downwards instantly,
As if of india-rubber.
"Hounds IN FULL CRY I like," said she:
(Oh how I longed to snub her!)
"Of fish, a whale's the one for me,

The night's performance was "King John."
"It's dull," she wept, "and so-so!"
Awhile I let her tears flow on,
She said they soothed her woe so!
At length the curtain rose upon
'Bombastes Furioso.'

In vain we roared; in vain we tried
To rouse her into laughter:
Her pensive glances wandered wide
From orchestra to rafter -
"TIER UPON TIER!" she said, and sighed;
And silence followed after.

by Lewis Carroll



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