Poetry Sunday: Double Rule of Three

Carroll was a master at hiding things in plain sight using nonsense and jargon. A favorite of mine regulated to ‘children’s literature’, I consider some of his social commentary on par with Dickens.  The Mad Gardener’s Song is an intriguing piece for absent minded philosophers on the road to find out.  On the surface mere Mad Hatterish wit and yet the last two stanzas imply so much more. Instead of an ‘eat me’ candy, you have a ‘solve me’ riddle.  An early 18th century American teacher, Thomas James wrote a book on arithmetic in 1802 with a section entitled The Double Rule of three in Vulgar Fractions.  There were common textbooks in England and the United States with similar double rules titles. As a title including those vulgar fractions, it is almost worthy of its own Carroll poem, but the key to the garden door so to speak is found in that double rule of three and has a direct connexion with the last stanza. Abandon all hope and vulgar fractions, oh my!

The Mad Gardener’s Song by Lewis Carroll

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!’

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 only thing I regret,’ he said,
‘Is that it cannot speak!’

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!’

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!’

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!’

He thought he saw an 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!’

Theme Music: Beethoven – Variations on ‘Rule Britannia’


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