'Tis the Voice of the Lobster

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The Lobster, illustrated by John Tenniel

'Tis the Voice of the Lobster is a poem by Lewis Carroll that appears in Chapter 10 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. As recited by Alice to the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, the first stanza describes a vain and stylish lobster who pretends not to fear sharks, but is in fact terrified by them. In the second stanza, an owl naively attempts to share a meat pie with a greedy panther. Although the poem's final line is left incomplete, the owl's unhappy fate is evident to the reader.

Analysis[edit]

"'Tis the Voice of the Lobster" is a parody of "The Sluggard", a moralistic poem by Isaac Watts which was well known in Carroll's day.[1] "The Sluggard" depicts the unsavory lifestyle of a slothful individual as a negative example. Carroll's lobster's corresponding vice is that he is weak and cannot back up his boasts, and is consequently easy prey. This fits the pattern of the predatory parody poems in the two Alice books.

Full text[edit]

'Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him declare
"You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair."
As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose
Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.
When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark;
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.
I passed by his garden, and marked, with one eye,
How the Owl and the Panther were sharing a pie:
The Panther took pie-crust, and gravy, and meat,
While the Owl had the dish as its share of the treat.
When the pie was all finished, the Owl, as a boon,
Was kindly permitted to pocket the spoon;
While the Panther received knife and fork with a growl,
And concluded the banquet by ---

Alice's recitation is suddenly interrupted by the Mock Turtle, who finds the poem "the most confusing thing I ever heard." It is generally assumed that the last words of the poem could be supplied as "— eating the Owl".

Notes[edit]

This poem is not to be conflated with a "Lobster Quadrille" that the Mock Turtle sings to Alice as he dances with the Gryphon. After the dance, Alice intends to recite the poem "Tis the voice of the sluggard", but "her head was so full of the Lobster Quadrille, that she hardly knew what she was saying" (Ch. 10).