I met an aged, aged man
Upon the lonely moor:
I knew I was a gentleman,
And he was but a boor.
So I stopped and roughly questioned him,
“Come, tell me how you live!”
But his words impressed my ear no more
Than if it were a sieve.
He said, “I look for soap-bubbles,
That lie among the wheat,
And bake them into mutton-pies,
And sell them in the street.
I sell them unto men”, he said,
“Who sail on stormy seas;
And that’s the way I get my bread--
A trifle, if you please.”
But I was thinking of a way
To multiply by ten,
And always, in the answer, get
The question back again.
I did not hear a word he said,
But kicked that old man calm,
And said, “Come, tell me how you live!”
And pinched him in the arm.
His accents mild took up the tale:
He said, “I go my ways,
And when I find a mountain-rill,
I set it in a blaze.
And thence they make a stuff they call
Rowland’s Macassar Oil;
But fourpence-halfpenny is all
They give me for my toil.”
But I was thinking of a plan
To paint one’s gaiters green,
So much the colour of the grass
That they could ne’er be seen.
I gave his ear a sudden box,
And questioned him again,
And tweaked his grey and reverend locks,
And put him into pain.
He said, “I hunt for haddocks’ eyes
Among the heather bright,
And work them into waistcoat-buttons
In the silent night.
And these I do not sell for gold,
Or coin of silver-mine,
But for a copper-halfpenny,
And that will purchase nine.
“I sometimes dig for buttered rolls,
Or set limed twigs for crabs;
I sometimes search the flowery knolls
For wheels of hansom cabs.
And that’s the way” (he gave a wink)
“I get my living here,
And very gladly will I drink
Your Honour’s health in beer.”
I heard him then, for I had just
Completed my design
To keep the Menai bridge from rust
By boiling it in wine.
I duly thanked him, ere I went,
For all his stories queer,
But chiefly for his kind intent
To drink my health in beer.
And now if e’er by chance I put
My fingers into glue,
Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot
Into a left-hand shoe;
Or if a statement I aver
Of which I am not sure,
I think of that strange wanderer
Upon the lonely moor.
Lewis Carroll 1856
Upon the lonely moor … comments …
Lewis Carroll was motivated to write this poem after reading Wordsworth’s poem ‘Resolution and Independence’
S1 …definite arrogance and class distinction … judgement on sight … not interested in the aged man … and superficially a question is asked while not interested in any reply … will this colour future interaction
S2 … A nonsense reply … but it doesn’t matter … alternatively these may be the words that the non-listening gentleman hears (a translation) – because he doesn’t really care … the words from the aged man have a certain humility about them
S3 … The gentleman has a mathematical bent with interest in riddles (befitting of Charles Hodgson … compare to Wordsworth’s poem when Wordsworth is thinking about poetry when talking to the leech gatherer) … forces calm (a metaphorical kick?) then asks the same question … and interestingly pinches the poor fellow … showing arrogance and disrespect
S4 and S5 … again a lot of nonsense and non-comprehension …and again the Gentleman distracted by idle thoughts (Rowland’s Macassar Oil – a well-known Victorian beautifier for the hair - for the Upper Class) … the Gentleman again questions ... boxing ears and tweaking the aged man’s hair as though the poor fellow is a school boy and he a teacher
S6 and S7 … nonsense continued in the same vein with certain cynical references (waistcoat and hansom cabs) … the last two lines give recognition to the Gentleman (your Honour) in terms of offering a toast
S8 … the Gentleman’s thoughts are now complete (note - his thoughts are just as nonsensical) he can focus on the aged man and what he has heard … the only thing of any sense being the thank you toast … the question is - if he had listened or been more aware would he have heard different words … would he have been given different words?
S9 … whenever the Gentleman does something by mistake that is not fitting he thinks of the aged man who is living a non-fitting life at least to his frame of reference … and of course if he had been listening (or aware of what he was doing) would he have put his foot into the wrong shoe in the first place?
From the dictionary …
Gentleman … 1. a man of good breeding, education, and manners. 2. (as a polite form of speech) any man. 3. a male personal servant, or valet, especially of a man of social position: a gentleman's gentleman. 4. a man of good social standing by birth, especially one who does not work for a living.5. History a man above the rank of yeoman
Boor … 1. a rude or unmannerly person, 2. a peasant; a rustic.3. an illiterate or clownish peasant.4. a Dutch or German peasant.5. any foreign peasant.
Note ... See also Chapter 8 of Through the Looking Glass … Alice talking to the White Knight with the text on which this was based