Poetry Sunday: You Are Old, Father William by Lewis Carroll

And now for a bit of fun.

You may remember this poem, as I do, from childhood. I read quite a bit of Lewis Carroll in those days. In fact, he may be the first poet I learned to appreciate. I loved his nonsense poems.

Here's one that isn't entirely nonsense. Now having arrived at an age where I can more easily appreciate and commiserate with Father William, I've gained a different perspective on it than I might have had in my younger days.

You Are Old, Father William

by Lewis Carroll

"You are old, father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head --
Do you think, at your age, it is right?

"In my youth," father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, "as I mentioned before,
And you have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door --
Pray what is the reason for that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment -- one shilling a box --
Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak --
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose --
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said his father. "Don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you downstairs."


  1. As you say, Dorothy, the benefit of the years is that we can view this poem from a different perspective and appreciate it so much more. In a similar vein, I have recently been re-reading Hemingway and Steinbeck and I am quite sure that I understand more nuance than when I read them many years ago. The stories are still as gripping, it's the examination of the undercurrents and subtexts thats becomes ever more interesting. They were both great writers, as different as Stilton from Camembert, but each superb.

    1. Rereading books that we read in our younger years often reveals things to us that we might have missed in our callow youth. I have not revisited Hemingway and Steinbeck. I have reread some of Faulkner and F.Scott Fitzgerald from that era. Both wrote layers upon layers of meaning, more of which I can appreciate these days.

  2. I like this one. I loved Lewis Carroll as a child too and this one makes me laugh but I also understand where it's coming from. Great choice!

  3. We all change as we get older. Things that appealed to us when young no longer do, while we can appreciate certain works we ignored while young. In a way, our current situation has hit "Pause" on our lives. I never have read any Lewis Carroll (no, not even "Alice in Wonderland". Maybe it's time I do.

    1. It's never too late! He always appeals to my sense of the absurd and we do live in absurd times.

  4. Funny. Three questions is all you get, be off! I can relate to this one

    1. Me, too, although I haven't been known to turn any somersaults lately!


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