Carroll’s “Tale of a Tail”

This humorous poem appears in Carroll’s earliest surviving manuscript, a magazine he created for his younger siblings when he was just thirteen years old.

A Tale of a tail—


An aged gardener gooseberries picked,

From off a gooseberry tree;

The thorns they oft his fingers pricked

Yet never a word said he—


A dog sat by him with a tail,

Oh! such a tail! I ween,

That never such in hill or dale,

Hath hitherto been seen.


It was a tail of desperate length,

A tail of grizly fur,

A tail of muscle, bone, and strength

Unmeet for such a cur.


Yet of this tail the dog seemed proud

And ever and anon,

He raised his head, and barked so loud,

That tho’ the man seemed something cowed,

Yet still his work went on.


At length in lashing out its tail,

It twisted it so tight,

Around his legs, 'twas no avail,

To pull with all its might.


The gardener scarce could make a guess,

What round his legs had got,

Yet he worked on in weariness,

Although his wrath was hot.


“Why, what’s the matter?” he did say,

“I can’t keep on my feet,

‘Yet not a glass I’ve had this day

‘Save one, of brandy neat.


“Two quarts of ale, and one good sup,

‘Of whiskey sweet and strong,

‘And yet I scarce can now stand up,

I fear that something’s wrong.


His work reluctantly he stopped,

The cause of this to view,

Then quickly seized an axe and chopped,

The guilty tail in two.


When this was done, with mirth he bowed

Till he was black and blue,

The dog it barked both long and loud,

And with good reason too.

Moral. Don’t get drunk.

Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)
Useful and Instructive Poetry
Autograph manuscript, dated [Croft Rectory, Yorkshire, 1845]
Alfred C. Berol Collection, Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University.
Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2015.