The Mad Gardener’s Song by Lewis Carroll

Posted on March 12, 2013

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mad gardenerIt is not well-known that, beside the Alice books, Lewis Carroll wrote another nonsense novel, Sylvie and Bruno (1889).  The Alice books are masterpieces.  Sylvie and Bruno is laboured and tedious, unfunny and unexciting, and for the most part, well forgotten.  The exception is the following poem which appears as a refrain, a verse at a time throughout the book.

The Mad Gardener’s Song

He thought he saw an Elephant,

That practised on a fife:

He looked again, and found it was

A letter from his wife.

‘At length I realise,’ he said,

‘The bitterness of Life!’

buffalo on the chimney piece

*

He thought he saw a Buffalo

Upon the chimney-piece:

He looked again, and found it was

His Sister’s Husband’s Niece.

‘Unless you leave this house,’ he said,

‘I’ll send for the Police!’

*

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake

That questioned him in Greek:

He looked again, and found it was

The Middle of Next Week.

‘The one thing I regret,’ he said,

‘Is that it cannot speak!’

hippo descending from a bus*

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk

Descending from the bus:

He looked again, and found it was

A Hippopotamus.

‘If this should stay to dine,’ he said,

‘There won’t be much for us!’

*

kangaroo and coffee mill

*

*

*

He thought he saw a Kangaroo

That worked a coffee-mill:

He looked again, and found it was

A Vegetable-Pill.

‘Were I to swallow this,’ he said,

‘I should be very ill!’

*

bear without head*

He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four

That stood beside his bed:

He looked again, and found it was

A Bear without a Head.

‘Poor thing,’ he said, ‘poor silly thing!

It’s waiting to be fed!’

*

*

He thought he saw an Albatross

That fluttered round the lamp:

He looked again, and found it was

A Penny-Postage Stamp.

‘You’d best be getting home,’ he said:

‘The nights are very damp!’

*

He thought he saw a Garden-Door

That opened with a key:

He looked again, and found it was

A Double Rule of Three:

‘And all its mystery,’ he said,

‘Is clear as day to me!’

proved he was the pope*

He thought he saw a Argument

That proved he was the Pope:

He looked again, and found it was

A Bar of Mottled Soap.

‘A fact so dread,’ he faintly said,

‘Extinguishes all hope!’

–Lewis Carroll, 1889