“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–”
-Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”
There’s a sound to words, but there’s also a rhythm, a feel, and a taste. Carroll’s lines are simply a delight to say. Go ahead, say them. Purr them. Feel them dance in your fingers. If these words were in a language I didn’t know, I’d think, while I listened, that they were some charm being cast. And there are so many things to talk about.
It reminds me of a story: an art critic is taking a train through Europe. When he gets to his seat, he realizes he’s beside a famous painter. The painter’s next to the window. He seems entranced: outside, some power lines run along the tracks, and beyond them are rolling hills, a river slipping in and out of view, and little villages.
The critic has always admired this painter: his work shows a clear eye for what’s there, for light and shadow, movement and stillness. The critic wants to say something–he’ll never get a chance like this again! He looks out the window, too, trying to find something to comment on. Eventually he goes with the obvious:
‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’ He says
‘Yes,’ says the painter. ‘The way a powerline go on and on, mile after mile, a single sweeping stroke…’
There are so many different things to see. When I was eight or so, I was getting into the car with my dad for a seven hour drive. “I don’t even have a toy to play with,” I said. He looked around, and picked up a piece of dried tar from the road–at least, I think that’s what it was. It was black, and it had been liquidy once, though now it was hard to the touch.
“How about this?” he asked.
I didn’t play with it at all during the drive–I tried to, and didn’t see how. I was a stubborn kid. Perhaps part of me didn’t want this thing to be a toy, because I’d wanted some other toy. Then again, looking back, I’ve thought about that piece of tar as much as some of my favorite childhood toys. Perhaps I knew, even then, there was a mystery inside it, a mystery I was missing.
At my grandpa’s funeral, one of his friends stood up to say something. I don’t know the man’s name, but he started with: “‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said…”
‘Me and Jack,’ he went on, ‘We never knew which one of us was the Walrus, and which one wasn’t. I don’t know who wrote those lines, but we decided a long time ago they were at least a bit about us. We talked about a lot.’ Later that day, I told him who’d written the lines. He told me something better. Apparently, if an old man’s to be trusted, talking to a walrus (or being one) is quite enough to make a life.