Alice was walking beside the White Knight in Looking Glass Land.
‘You are sad.’ the Knight said in an anxious tone: ‘let me sing you a song to comfort you.’
‘Is it very long?’ Alice asked, for she had heard a good deal of poetry that day.
‘It’s long.’ said the Knight, ‘but it’s very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it –
either it brings tears to their eyes, or else -‘
‘Or else what?’ said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.
‘Or else it doesn’t, you know. The name of the song is called ‘Haddocks’ Eyes.”
‘Oh, that’s the name of the song, is it?’ Alice said, trying to feel interested.
‘No, you don’t understand,’ the Knight said, looking a little vexed. ‘That’s what the name
is called. The name really is ‘The Aged, Aged Man.”
‘Then I ought to have said ‘That’s what the song is called’?’ Alice corrected herself.
‘No you oughtn’t: that’s another thing. The song is called ‘Ways and Means’ but that’s only
what it’s called, you know!’
‘Well, what is the song then?’ said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.
‘I was coming to that,’ the Knight said. ‘The song really is ‘A-sitting On a Gate’: and the
tune’s my own invention.’
So saying, he stopped his horse and let the reins fall on its neck: then slowly beating time
with one hand, and with a faint smile lighting up his gentle, foolish face, he began:
I’ll tell thee everything I can;
There’s little to relate.
I saw an aged, aged man,
A-sitting on a gate.
‘Who are you, aged man?’ I said,
‘ And how is it you live?’
And his answer trickled through my head
like water through a sieve.
He said ‘I look for butterflies
That sleep among the wheat:
I make them into mutton pies,
And sell them in the street.
I sell them unto men,’ he said,
‘Who sail on stormy seas;
And that’s the way I get my bread –
A trifle if you please.’
But I was thinking of a plan
To dye one’s whiskers green,
And always use so large a fan
That they could not be seen.
So, having no reply to give
To what the old man said,
I cried, ‘Come tell me how you live!’
And thumped him on the head.
His accents mild took up the tale:
He said, ‘I go my ways,
And when I find a mountain-rill,
I set it in a blaze;
And thence they make a stuff they call
Rowland’s Macassar Oil –
Yet twopence-halfpenny is all
They give me for my toil.’
But I was thinking of a way
To feed one’s self on batter,
And so go on from day to day
Getting a little fatter.
I shook him well from side to side
Until his face was blue:
‘Come tell me how you live,’ I cried,
‘And what it is you do!’
He said ‘I hunt for haddocks’ eyes
Among the heather bright,
And work them into waistcoat buttons
In the silent night.
And these I do not sell for gold
Or coin of silvery shine,
But for a copper halfpenny,
And that will purchase nine.
‘I sometimes dig for buttered rolls,
Or set limed twigs for crabs;
I sometimes search for grassy knolls
For wheels of hansom-cabs.
And that’s the way’ (he gave a wink)
‘By which I get my wealth –
And very gladly will I drink
Your Honour’s noble health.’
I heard him then, for I had just
Completed my design
To keep the Menai Bridge from rust
By boiling it in wine.
I thanked him much for telling me
The way he got his wealth,
But chiefly for the wish that he
Might drink my noble health.
And now if e’er by chance I put
My fingers into glue,
Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot
Into a left-hand shoe,
Or if I drop upon my toe
A very heavy weight,
I weep, for it reminds me so
Of that old man I used to know –
Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow
Whose hair was whiter than the snow,
Whose face was very like a crow,
With eyes, like cinders, all aglow,
Who seemed distracted with his woe,
Who rocked his body to and fro,
And muttered mumblingly and low,
As if his mouth were full of dough,
Who snorted like a buffalo –
That summer evening long ago
A-sitting on a gate.
As the Knight sang the last words of the ballad, he gathered up the reins, and turned his horse’s head along the road by which they had come.