Father William

 'You are old, Father William,' the young man said,
 'And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head -
Do you think, at your age, it is right?'

'In my youth,' Father William replied to his son,
 'I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why I do it again and again.'
'You are old,' said the youth, 'as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door -
Pray, what is the reason for that?'

'In my youth,' said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
 'I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment - one shilling the box -
Allow me to sell you a couple?'

'You are old,' said the youth, 'and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak -
Pray, how did you manage to do it?'

'In my youth,' said his father, 'I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw
Has lasted the rest of my life.'

'You are old,' said the youth, 'one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose -
What made you so awfully clever?'

'I have answered three questions, and that is enough,'
Said his father. 'Don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down-stairs!'


The charm and fame of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass of Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-1898) was also enhanced by his helping to free the over disciplined Victorian children from the bigoted, piously moral Victorian society, and the righteous requirements of the Victorian epoch. He did this, of course, by parodying the moralistic, sanctimonious poems that were still sermonised to children during his life time.
The above is an example. It is a parody of Robert Southey's The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them (below).

'You are old, father William,' the young man cried,'
'The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.'
'In the days of my youth,' father William replied,'
'I remember'd that youth would fly fast,
And abus'd not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last.'
'You are old, father William,' the young man cried,
'And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.'
'In the days of my youth,' father William replied,
'I remember'd that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past.'
'You are old, father William,' the young man cried,
'And life must be hast'ning away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray.'
'I am cheerful, young man,' father William replied,
'Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember'd my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age.'


It's ironic and perhaps poetic justice that Lewis Carroll's parodies have become timeless. Obviously preferred, they are far more widely known than the original, forgotten poems condemned to fade away like sad, old, sepia photographs belonging to their own epoch.
Illustrations © Mirino (PW) from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll . Weevers). Father William Parody by Lewis Carroll. Original poem by Robert Southey, with thanks.    
March, 2014

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