'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths
In The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner notes that “Jabberwocky” began as a “Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry” Carroll wrote for the amusement of his family at age 23:
Twas Bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogoves;
And ye mome raths outgrabe.
Carroll glossed the opening line for them as follows:
BRYLLYG (derived from the verb to BRYL or BROIL), “the time of broiling dinner, i.e. the close of the afternoon."
SLYTHY (compounded of SLIMY and LITHE). "Smooth and active."
TOVE. A species of Badger. They had smooth white hair, long hind legs, and short horns like a stag; lived chiefly on cheese.
Gardner notes that “The Oxford English Dictionary lists slithy as a variant of sleathy, an obsolete word meaning slovenly,” but that this interpretation differs from Humpty-Dumpty’s. (Also, from Carroll’s explanation for his family.)
Finally, in his explanation of the stanza for his family, Carroll added:
Hence the literal English of the passage is: ‘It was evening, and the smooth active badgers were scratching and boring holes in the hill-side; all unhappy were the parrots; and the grave turtles squeaked out.’"
There were probably sundials on the top of the hill, and the ‘borogoves’ were afraid that their nests would be undermined. The hill was probably full of nests of ‘raths’, which ran out, squeaking with fear, on hearing the ‘toves’ scratching outside. This is an obscure, but yet deeply-affecting, relic of ancient Poetry.
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