Poetry Friday: Of Snarks and Quarks

Eldest Daughter has fallen in love. . . again . . . this time with Lewis Carroll. According to my daughter’s Victorian Fantasy professor, the word “quark” is a portmanteau word, a combination of quasi-snark, from Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. According to my computer dictionary, the term quark was invented by a man named Murray Gell-Mann. “Originally quork, the term was changed by association with the line ‘Three quarks for Muster Mark’ in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.” Somebody’s mistaken.

Anyway, mistake or no, I’m told that scientists, especially physicists, are also quite fond of Lewis Carroll. Carroll was quite the mathemetician, and his brand of nonsense appeals not only to Eldest Daughter, but also to the logical, imaginative, physics-types who, I assume, read his works looking for quarks and gluons and other nonsensical entities.

All this verbiage I’ve written is to introduce the fact that I have a new guilty pleasure. The other night, in my bed, I listened to Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark as I went to sleep. To indulge, it helps to have a computer next to your bed. Then go to LibriVox, a site which “provides free audiobooks from the public domain.” You can download these mp3 files of books (and poems) into your computer or iPod, or you can listen at the website. Either way find a poem or story that you want to listen to for a bedtime story, and tuck yourself in and listen. I didn’t hear the entire poem, but I did enjoy the part I heard before I fell asleep. I think falling asleep to the sound of poetry might be even better than falling asleep to music.

By the way, boojum is a term used in physics, coined by a physicist, and taken from The Hunting of the Snark. And The Snark becomes a Boojum. In the poem. Not in physics. Eldest Daughter says that snarks transforming themselves into boojums is a very scary and deeply disturbing concept. Physicists probably find the phenomenon fascinating and mathematically intriguing.

“For, although common Snarks do no manner of harm,
Yet, I feel it my duty to say,
Some are Boojums–” The Bellman broke off in alarm,
For the Baker had fainted away.
“But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
If your Snark be a Boojum! For then
You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
And never be met with again!”
In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away —
For the Snark was a boojum, you see.

Read The Hunting of the Snark here.

4 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Of Snarks and Quarks

  1. Karl Horak

    Of tangential interest, the Cirio of Baja California (scientific name: _Fouqueria columnaris_ (Kellogg) Kellogg ex Curran) is commonly called a Boojum. It is a wonderfully strange succulent tree. Worth the journey to see it. Entire valleys are full of them.

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