'You Are Old, Father William' by Lewis Carroll

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"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 you have grown must uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned back a somersault in at the door--
Pray, what is the reason of that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his gray locks,
"I kep all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment--one shilling a 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 eyes 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 downstairs!"

Submitted by foolish Paeter

Editor 1 Interpretation

"You Are Old, Father William" by Lewis Carroll: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

"Oh, how I love this poem!" That's what I thought when I first read "You Are Old, Father William" by Lewis Carroll. I mean, who wouldn't love this classic gem that has been around for more than 150 years? But, as a literary critic, I must go beyond my initial excitement and dive deeper into the poem's themes, structure, and literary devices. So, let's begin!

Overview and Summary

"You Are Old, Father William" is a satirical poem that was first published in 1865 in Lewis Carroll's book "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." The poem is a parody of a moralistic poem called "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them" by Robert Southey. In Carroll's poem, a young man questions an old man (Father William) about his youthful feats and how he manages to keep fit at his old age. Father William responds with absurd and comical explanations.


The themes of "You Are Old, Father William" are age, wisdom, and youth. Carroll uses humor to poke fun at the idea that age brings wisdom and that youth is a time of folly. Father William's responses to the young man's questions highlight the absurdity of traditional wisdom and the value of youthful curiosity and skepticism. The poem also critiques the notion that old age is a time of physical decline and that youth is a time of physical vitality.

Structure and Form

The poem has a simple AABB rhyme scheme and is composed of seven quatrains. The poem's structure is similar to that of "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them" but with a satirical twist. Carroll also uses repetition and parallelism to create a rhythm and emphasize certain lines. For example, "And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw, / Has lasted the rest of my life" is repeated twice in the poem.

Literary Devices

Carroll's use of literary devices is masterful in "You Are Old, Father William." He uses irony, satire, hyperbole, and personification to create a humorous and absurd tone. For example, Father William's explanation that "In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law, / And argued each case with my wife" is a hyperbolic and ironic portrayal of a lawyer's profession. Carroll also personifies Father William's body parts, such as his jaws and knees, to emphasize their importance and longevity.


The poem's central message is that wisdom comes from questioning traditional beliefs and being curious about the world. Father William's responses to the young man's questions are absurd and comical but also reveal his unconventional way of thinking. For example, Father William's explanation that "I have answered three questions, and that is enough," challenges the idea that one must always seek more knowledge.

The poem also critiques the notion that old age is a time of decline and weakness. Father William's responses reveal his physical strength and vitality, despite his age. For example, his explanation that "I have eaten as much as an elephant eats, / And I drink for my supper a barrel of wine," highlights his robust appetite and endurance.

In conclusion, "You Are Old, Father William" is a delightful and insightful poem that uses humor and satire to challenge traditional beliefs about age, wisdom, and youth. Carroll's use of literary devices and structure creates a rhythmic and engaging poem that still resonates with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

You Are Old, Father William: A Timeless Classic by Lewis Carroll

If you're a fan of classic literature, then you've probably heard of Lewis Carroll. He's the author of the beloved children's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which has been adapted into countless movies, TV shows, and stage productions. But did you know that Carroll was also a poet? One of his most famous poems is You Are Old, Father William, a witty and satirical piece that has stood the test of time.

The poem was first published in 1865 as part of Carroll's collection Phantasmagoria and Other Poems. It's a parody of a popular moralistic poem called The Old Man's Comforts, which was written by Robert Southey in 1799. In Southey's poem, an old man lists all the things that make him happy and content in his old age. Carroll's poem takes a different approach. It's a conversation between a young man and an old man, in which the young man asks the old man how he manages to stay so spry and active in his old age. The old man, Father William, responds with a series of increasingly absurd and impossible feats.

The poem is written in rhyming couplets, with a simple and repetitive structure that makes it easy to read and remember. But don't let the simplicity fool you. There's a lot going on beneath the surface of this seemingly lighthearted poem.

One of the key themes of the poem is the generation gap. The young man is clearly impressed by Father William's vitality and wants to know his secret. But Father William's responses are so outlandish that they become comical. He claims to be able to stand on his head, balance an eel on his nose, and even dance a jig on a tightrope. These feats are clearly impossible, and the young man becomes increasingly incredulous as Father William continues to describe them.

This contrast between the young man's earnestness and Father William's absurdity highlights the differences between the generations. The young man is looking for practical advice on how to stay healthy and active in old age, while Father William is more interested in entertaining him with tall tales. This disconnect between the two characters is a reflection of the wider cultural gap between the Victorian era, when the poem was written, and the modern era.

Another theme of the poem is the nature of aging itself. Father William's responses are not just absurd, they're also physically impossible. This is a nod to the fact that no matter how healthy and active we are in our youth, there are certain things that simply become impossible as we age. Father William's feats are a kind of wish fulfillment, a way of imagining a world in which age is no barrier to physical prowess.

But there's also a sense of resignation in Father William's responses. He's not trying to convince the young man that he's actually capable of these feats. Instead, he's acknowledging that he's old and that there are certain things he can no longer do. By exaggerating his abilities, he's making light of his limitations and showing that he still has a sense of humor about his age.

The poem also has a satirical edge. Carroll was known for his sharp wit and his ability to poke fun at the conventions of Victorian society. In You Are Old, Father William, he's taking aim at the kind of moralistic poetry that was popular in his day. The original poem by Southey is a prime example of this genre, with its emphasis on the virtues of contentment and gratitude. Carroll's parody is a way of subverting this kind of sentimentalism and showing that there's more to life than just being happy and content.

Overall, You Are Old, Father William is a clever and entertaining poem that has stood the test of time. Its themes of aging, generation gaps, and satire are just as relevant today as they were in the Victorian era. And its simple rhyming structure and memorable lines make it a joy to read and recite. So the next time you're feeling old and creaky, just remember Father William and his eel-balancing antics. After all, a little humor and absurdity can go a long way in making the aging process a little more bearable.

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