Reading Poetry: the Faber Book of Beasts

Read Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Kraken’ and Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’. Compare and contrast the way the two poets represent their monsters.

The Jabberwocky is a fairly rigid stanzaic poem which maintains a regular iambic beat throughout. Its stanzas are made up of three eight syllable lines followed by a six syllable line, with the only variation being a switch between an ABAB and ABCB rhyme scheme.
The Kraken feels more free-flowing. The rhythm doesn’t settle, switching between trochaic and iambic beats over the course of the long ten or eleven syllable lines. The rhyme scheme is complex and whilst every line has a rhyming partner, there is very little discernible pattern beyond the first four lines which follow an ABAB structure. The long sentences and irregular rhyming could possibly be conveying a sense of the writhing, unpredictable tentacles of the Kraken, or an uneasy and unsettled sea. The poem has an ominous and oppressive feel, with the “thunder” and the fleeing of the “faintest sunlight” giving a sense of impending threat.
The Jabberwocky feels far less threatening and has a more light-hearted folksy feel. Taking Humpty Dumpty’s definition of “brillig” as meaning “4 o’clock in the afternoon – the time when you begin broiling things for dinner” (Carroll, 1982, p185), it sets quite a safe scene with various creatures of the wood going about their business. The “slithy toves” sound slimy and slightly unpleasant, rather like slugs or leeches, but ultimately pose no threat as they “gyre and gimble”. These words have a playful quality, rather like gay, nimble or gambol. The borogroves are described as “mimsy”, a word which again doesn’t inspire dread, instead it sounds rather delicate.
Tennyson has been very descriptive in his poem. He describes the Krakens “shadowy sides” and there is a great emphasis on size. The “huge sponges of millennial growth”, “huge sea-worms” all stress the enormity of the monster and the world it inhabits. The description...