‘The Crocodile’ is short and charming. It is also known as ‘How Doth the Little Crocodile’ and appeared in Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865. Alice reads the poem in chapter two. This particular poem comes into her mind as she’s trying to think of another, ‘Against Idleness and Mischief’ by Isaac Watts.
When Carroll wrote ‘The Crocodile,’ he allowed the crocodile’s virtues to come to the forefront. These virtues, cunning, deception, and predation, are some of the primary themes of the poem, as well as the novel in which it was published.
Explore The Crocodile
Summary of The Crocodile
This poem takes the reader through some of the attributes one particular crocodile displays. Deception and cunning are among these. He smiles cheerfully, basks in the sun, washes his scales, and opens his claws as if welcoming fish to his arms.
Structure of The Crocodile
‘The Crocodile’ by Lewis Carroll is a two stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD. The lines are also all around the same length, with alternating margins, lining up with their alternating rhyme scheme.
Odd-numbered lines, starting with line one of the first stanza, contain four sets of two beats per line. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed. The same can be said for the even-numbered lines, starting with line number two of the first stanza. These contain three sets of two beats through, for a total of six syllables per line.
This piece was aimed at a younger audience, therefore the sing-song-like rhythm of the lines is perfect. Carroll uses this kind of rhythm to make the lines more pleasing to read as well as listen to. It also should help keep a child’s attention for longer. Carroll makes this poem more attractive to children through the humorous nature of the content. The events of the poem should be relatable to the child hearing or reading it. It is well remembered for its position within his much-loved novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Poetic Techniques in The Crocodile
Carroll makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Crocodile’. These include, but are not limited to, anaphora, alliteration, enjambment, and personification. The latter is perhaps the most important technique used in this short poem. It occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. The crocodile is personified throughout the text. He appears “cheerful” and seems to sport a “grin” on his face as he hunts for fish.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “seems” and “spreads” in lines one and two of the second stanza.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines one and two, and three and four, of the first stanza.
Carroll also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. This can be seen most clearly in the use of “How” at the beginning of line one of both stanzas. But, “And” is also used twice, at the beginning of line three of both stanzas. This creates a similar structure between the two sections while also playing into the already prominent song-like qualities of the lines.
Analysis of The Crocodile
How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
In the first stanza of ‘The Crocodile,’ the speaker begins by drawing the reader’s attention to “the little crocodile”. This description does not do the creature justice, as the second stanza will reveal. It paints him as small, un-intimidating, and harmless, but this is not the case.
The crocodile is personified. He makes the choice to “Improve his shining tail” by waving it through the waters of the water of the Nile River. This increases its shine and brings out the “gold” on each scale.
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!
In the second stanza of ‘The Crocodile,’ the speaker reveals that the creature is not simply enjoying the water, he is hunting. He appears to “grin,” cheerfully as his “spreads his claws”. As if welcoming the fish in for an embrace, he captures them in his “gently smiling jaws”. The juxtaposition of these kind words like “gently” and “smiling” with “jaws” and “claws” is interesting. It makes the crocodile seem conniving and sneaky.