Happy Birthday Sir John Tenniel

Sir John Tenniel (28 February 1820 – 25 February 1914) was an English illustrator, graphic humorist, and political cartoonist prominent in the second half of the 19th century. He was knighted for his artistic achievements in 1893. Tenniel is remembered especially as the principal political cartoonist for Punch magazine for over 50 years, and for his illustrations to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). (Wikipedia)

BUY NOW: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Books of Wonder)

Real Plums, Imaginary Cake

This morning
I made a cake
from dust and ashes
to see how it would taste.

Would it be harsh
or honeyed?

Would it coat
my lips with memory?

Licked and swallowed,
would it
fill up my belly
to curb the ravenous?

Or would it catch
inside my throat
mask words and breath
in sweet, sweet silence?

In which Alice serves up plum cake, illustration by John Tenniel, with a nod to Mary McCarthy for her fab quote about the task of writing “I am putting real plums into an imaginary cake.” Poem ©2018, Jen Payne.

The Time Has Come, the Walrus Said, to Talk of Many Things


The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright —
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done —
“It’s very rude of him,” she said,
“To come and spoil the fun!”

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead —
There were no birds to fly.


And so it was that Matt and I headed out on a beautiful morning, with the canopy of a bright, blue sky and the sun at our backs. There were, actually, plenty of birds overhead — good omens of crows and hawks to guide our way.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
“If this were only cleared away,”
They said, “it would be grand!”

“If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose,” the Walrus said,
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it,” said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

“O Oysters, come and walk with us!”
The Walrus did beseech.
“A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.”


We were off to visit my dear friends Frank and Judith, “for coffee” we’d said. For introductions and conversations, too. And oysters, a gift from Matt.

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head —
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat —
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more —
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.


With big smiles and generous hugs, the four of us headed straight to the kitchen for a lesson in shucking, and preparations for a feast that included these fresh ocean jewels and a sinful assortment of French pastries. Très délicieux!

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.”

“But wait a bit,” the Oysters cried,
“Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!”
“No hurry!” said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed —
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”

“But not on us!” the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
“After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!”
“The night is fine,” the Walrus said.
“Do you admire the view?


The view was fine — out through large windows to snowy woods on a winter day, then across the table to the warm, smiling faces of our hosts. The conversation was equally delicious — sharing first encounters with oysters, with new homes, with new loves. Laughter boiling over.

“It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf —
I’ve had to ask you twice!”

“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”

“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.


Indeed, we ate every one — oysters and pastries alike! The time had come then to take our leave. But not before posing for a group photo and promising to meet again soon. We waved good-bye out windows, and agreed it had been just like visiting family. Yes, what a pleasant run!

“The Walrus and the Carpenter,” by Lewis Carroll from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

Dear Alice…


Oh Alice.

There are some who would call us lewd,
my kindred, for our admiration
of these dome-capped sentinels,
our arduous prostrations
somehow deviant (or provocative).

Oh Alice.

Still others will point to
dear Lewis’ penchant for
their psychotropic disposition
as reason for your very existence,
and for my own fascination here, too.

Oh Alice.

If they only knew our true motivation,
why we take to bended knee thus.
That it be not sex or drugs,
but homage to these fertile spirits
who rock with creativity,
and roll our imaginations.










Alice Falling


I am down the rabbit hole.
I am, I can feel it.

We are familiar with each other—
this weightlessness and I.

Tethers of knowing better
wave in the breeze above my head




I will pretend
as long as I can
that I know the way back—
but I don’t.

I never do.

I end up some place else.

Still, what I see in the looking glass
is as curious as she thought,
and it whispers sweet Elysium




• • •

Poem ©2013, Jen Payne

Image: Alice’s Fall, ©Madeline Masarik. Reprinted here with permission. For more of her beautiful, haunting photography, please CLICK HERE.