While reading Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland I was particularly struck by the passage in which the Mouse recounts his “tail”. The use of emblematic or figured poetry fits in perfectly with the whimsical and fantastical nature of the story of Alice in Wonderland. On the other hand it brings out the more mathematical nature of many of the stories and games found within the book. Carroll as a not just a writer, but as a logician seems to have left puzzles throughout the story and I was interested to read in the side notes by Gardner about the two high school students in New Jersey that made the discovery that in one of the original texts, this Mouse’s tale actually looked as if each stanza was in the shape of a mouse. Though personally I prefer the one that is used in our version for its obvious play with the words “tale” and “tail”, yet I searched for other examples of emblematic writing and found that George Herbert also was a fan of this kind of structure:
(Poem #567) Easter Wings
Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store, Though foolishly he lost the same, Decaying more and more, Till he became Most poore: With Thee O let me rise, As larks, harmoniously, And sing this day Thy victories: Then shall the fall further the flight in me. My tender age in sorrow did beginne; And still with sicknesses and shame Thou didst so punish sinne, That I became Most thinne. With Thee Let me combine, And feel this day Thy victorie; For, if I imp my wing on Thine, Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
One can see that the subject of the poem aligns perfectly with the form, as the stanzas mirror the shape of Angel’s Wings. Another form of emblematic writing that was taking place at the time was what is now being called in fact, a kind of “old school” version of modern text lingo. The following link is from Aol news and it follows an exhibit that took place in the British Library last November called “Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices.”
It includes a very funny essay written by an unknown poet, that uses a lot of the lingo we use more commonly today.