"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll is considered one of the best nonsense poems in the English language. Carroll was a Victorian author best known for his books "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There." "Jabberwocky" appears in "Through the Looking-Glass," although though the first paragraph was written and published by Carroll many years earlier.
When Carroll was in his early twenties, he wrote and illustrated private periodical papers to amuse his younger siblings. The 1855 periodical, Misch-Masch, contained the first paragraph of what would later become the "Jabberwocky" poem. The verse was presented as a fragment of an ancient Anglo-Saxon poem. He then went on to interpret the verse and summarize its meaning.
The full version of the "Jabberwocky" poem is discovered in a book by the young character, Alice, in "Through the Looking-Glass." Though a few words are spelled differently, the first paragraph of the poem is identical to the original version.
The true meaning of the full "Jabberwocky" poem is impossible to pinpoint. Lewis Carroll cleverly utilized different sounds and word combinations to express feelings, giving the poem a certain mood, but no actual meaning. However, his made-up words in the first paragraph are given a meaning later in "Through the Looking-Glass." Humpty Dumpty explains the words in the first paragraph to Alice, but becomes distracted before he can explain the rest of the poem.
The first paragraph of the Jabberwocky poem is the only verse that comes with any sort of explanation. It seems pure nonsense until Humpty Dumpty explains the words to Alice later in the story. The following is the first paragraph of the poem, as found in "Through the Looking-Glass."
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
First Paragraph Meaning
The first two lines of the Jabberwocky poem make no sense until you discover that brillig means four o'clock in the afternoon, slithy means lithe and slimy, and toves means a type of animal. Gyre means go around, gamble means to make holes and wabe means a grass plot around a sundial. So the lines "Twas brillig, and the slithy toves: Did gyre and gimble in the wabe," means "It was 4 o'clock and the lithe and slimy animal: Did go around and make holes in the grass plot around the sundial."
The third and fourth lines of the Jabberwocky poem make no sense until you discover that mimsy means unhappy, borogoves means a bird, mome means lost, raths means a green pig and outgrabe means a bellowing and whistling sound. So the lines "All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe," means "All unhappy were the birds, And the lost green pig made a bellowing and whistling sound."