“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things”

Having missed last week, Food Poetry Wednesday is back in full form today with a special treat.  Today’s poem is easily one of the most beloved food poems ever written, although most people don’t think of it as a food poem, per se.  But that’s what made Lewis Carroll such a talented writer and poet: his ability to write for the whimsical imaginations of children while still appealing to adults with his witty and evocative imagery.

Today’s poem is a perfect example of that, as his descriptions of the oysters both in their appearance and in their consumption by the Walrus and the Carpenter are incredibly well-written and could hold their own against any food writer’s prose then or now.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
from Through the Looking Glass

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright–
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done–
“It’s very rude of him,” she said,
“To come and spoil the fun!”

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead–
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
“If this were only cleared away,”
They said, “it would be grand!”

“If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose,” the Walrus said,
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it,” said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

“O Oysters, come and walk with us!”
The Walrus did beseech.
“A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.”

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head–
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat–
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more–
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

“But wait a bit,” the Oysters cried,
“Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!”
“No hurry!” said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed–
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”

“But not on us!” the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
“After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!”
“The night is fine,” the Walrus said.
“Do you admire the view?

“It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf–
I’ve had to ask you twice!”

“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”

“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.

And, as promised, a special treat…

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12 responses to ““The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things”

  1. Saw this poem in Robb Walsh’s new book, “Sex, Death and Oysters”. A great poem, and book. Very well researched and written.

  2. Awesome. You made my day.

  3. Oddly, my ex recited this poem to me on our first date ever. He was trying to keep me entertained (read: distracted) after I’d overindulged and was feeling quite ill while we were sitting in his car (I absolutely could not take movement). While I enjoyed the poem, I’m afraid it didn’t work.

  4. Best quoted in Harriet the Spy between Ole Golly and Harriet.

  5. i love stories which end in a well defined character being eaten.

  6. `I like the Walrus best,’ said Alice: `because he was a little sorry for the poor oysters.’

    `He ate more than the Carpenter, though,’ said Tweedledee.

  7. “Lewis Carroll such a talented writer and poet: his ability to write for the whimsical imaginations of children while still appealing to adults with his witty and evocative imagery…”

    Don’t mean to disillusion you, but this is NOT a whimsical poem for children. It’s about religion.

  8. I had “Talk of Many Things” book compiled by Richard Wilson and published by Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd for a birthday in the 1940s. the walrus and the carpenter was only one of many items .

  9. Suzanne has it right, nothing is as it says. Lewis Carroll, an older man, is trying to seduce a young girl, Alice. It became so bad, Alice’s parents had to move out of town.The sealing was and kings had to do with the state of government. Maybe someone can remember what the shoes and ships meant, And of course, all of this to end up with oysters? The fallacy must be all consuming with such fare
    .

  10. Walrus is: We Are All Us.
    cabbages: are brains.

  11. Walrus, in other words, is WeAllAreUs, say it quickly.
    Just like the Indian “Deus Pitar” became Jupiter

    Just like the city Er.I.Du near Kuwait (Can U Wait…?) became “Earth”

  12. It is interesting to consider how each of us would interpret the meaning in this modern age, applying it to life, not merely religion or politics etc. WALRUS. Trying using the poem in a group discussion..great fun while also sobering

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