'Tis the Voice of the Lobster
"'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. "Carroll wrote the second stanza of the nonsense poem in 1886 for the first theatrical adaptation of Alice." Although the poem's final line is left incomplete, the owl's unhappy fate is evident to the reader.
"'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. "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.
The Mock Turtle* is interesting in that he is created from typical Carrollean attention to duality of meaning; in this case that of ‘Mock Turtle Soup’, it being either not real turtle soup or real soup made from real mock-turtles!
- '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." The poem ends with a mind rhyme; it is generally assumed that the last words of the poem could be supplied as "— eating the Owl".
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).
- "Carroll's "'Tis the Voice of the Lobster"". themorgan.org. 15 May 2015. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- Amlen, Deb. "'Tis the Voice of the Lobster". nytimes.com. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
- Martin Gardner. The Annotated Alice.
- Mouw, R.J.; Noll, M.A. (2004). Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-8028-2160-7. Retrieved 18 December 2016.