Characteristically ‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’’ rushes forward with a propulsive energy as it is read. In large part this is because of alliteration, the repetition of consonant sounds, especially in the initial letters of neighboring words. The poem is especially rich in sibilants—s’s and sh’s. These slippery consonants not only help the poem slide along but evoke the sea and the very feeling of swallowing oysters.
At several points in the poem, Carroll narrates the action by the sort of repetition that comes from drawing up a catalog. In the first stanzas, sun, moon, billows, sea, sand, clouds, and birds are mentioned, and their roles in establishing the action and the landscape of the poem are presented. In the sixth stanza, walking and talking are catalogued activities, as are the grooming activities of the oysters in stanza 8. Stanza 11 presents the walrus’s famous catalog of the things he says it is time to discuss.
Personification and Anthropomorphism
Anthropomorphism is a literary device that involves endowing nonhuman things with human attributes; in other words, nonhumans become humanized characters. Personification is a figure of speech in which human form or attributes are given to things that are not human. Both devices are used in ‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter.’’ The carpenter is the only actual human being in ‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’’ but the verses are peopled with a number of personified or anthropomorphized characters. The sun and the moon are both endowed with human characteristics. The sun is personified as a ‘‘he’’ whose act of shining is described as a willful act of strength. The walrus is anthropomorphized, or entirely humanized. He walks, talks, cries, and schemes. The oysters, too, are turned into human creatures with hands and feet and faces. They walk and speak, wear clothing, and have thoughts and feelings.
Rhythm and Rhyme
The rhythmic pattern of ‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’’ is rather simple and jingly, like a march inexorably proceeding on its simple way. Technically, it is produced through an alternation of iambic quadrameter and iambic trimeter lines. Iambic quadrameter lines consist of four iambic feet (pairs of syllables), that is, eight beats with the emphasis on each second beat. An iambic trimeter line has three iambic feet, that is, six beats with each second beat accented. This effortless advance, however, is largely attributable to a complex rhyme scheme that incorporates both regularity and variation. In each of the eighteen stanzas of the poem, the even lines, the second, fourth, and sixth lines, are rhymed, whereas the odd lines, the first, third, and fifth lines, are not. The rhymed lines hold the stanzas together and also hold them back, giving them what in music is called ritardando, stopping the narrative short momentarily at the end of the line, whereas the unrhymed lines propel the verses forward. Within this pattern, every now and then, Carroll inserts smaller, interior patterns. The first lines of the first three stanzas, unrhymed in their own stanzas, however, rhyme with each other. Each line ends with a long e sound. The effect is to unify the introductory stanzas. Although the fourth stanza breaks the pattern and eschews the rhyme, the long e sound, returns in its third, internally unrhymed, line, recapitulating the sound that began the poem and that is laced through the first three stanzas. Because not only the sound of the long e but the actual word, in homonymic form—sea becomes see—is repeated, the narrative turn that is occurring right then in the fourth stanza of the poem, the introduction of the walrus and the carpenter, is signaled as if it were a new narrative beginning.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, Lewis Carroll, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009