This Lewis Carroll Poem Explains Why I didn’t Vote for Trump (or Hillary)

For the first time in my life I have chosen not to vote. I have always prided myself in voting, seeing it as a critical function of an American Citizen. But something was different this cycle. Today, I make this choice not due to the vagrancy of both candidates. I make this decision for two reasons. First so as not surrender to the fate of the oysters, and second, so as not to snatch at shadows.

I’ll explain.

When it came to this election, I had purposefully remained as ignorant as a Mississippi leaping frog. Until, that is, I saw the second debate. I was not interested in the windbags on stage. It was not even the wrestlemania-like show that intrigued me (we all know it’s fake!) Rather, what piqued my interest was the reactions of my friends and family. Not during the debate, but afterwards. It was the posts and the tweets and the wild meandering thoughts of normally cogent minds. It was the wild gleam in a young woman’s eye as she laughed at nothing in particular. It was the secretive nods of brother bobbleheads.

The entire experience brought to my mind two poems. One is a poem about oysters and the other is a poem about shadows. Both perhaps are more relevant today than in their own time. And, though poetry is not to be read strictly for its message, it is not for nothing that poets have been called prophets.

Before the poem below, I’ve included a description of the poem and its relevance to my decision.

The first poem is Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” In it, we enter a chaotic world not dissimilar to our own. One where the sun shines brightly — at night. Where the moon is sulky at the sun for his intrusion. “It’s rude of him,” she says, “to come and spoil the fun.” (sound familiar?)

In this world, there are no clouds to be seen above the sea. There are no birds flying above the beach. And onto this barren scene emerge a Walrus and a Carpenter. As they gaze at the endless grains of sand, they begin to weep. “How grand the sea would be, if only this sand were swept away,” the Walrus said to his companion. Shedding a tear, the Carpenter replied, “Sadly we have but four arms between us. Seven maids with seven mops working for half a year could not clean the sand from this place and make the moon smile again.”

Luckily, the fat Walrus had an idea. Ask the oysters! After all, they are creatures of the sea. Certainly, they could be persuaded to rid the land of this dry sand.

“My fellow creatures of the wet, wet, sea, come to me, and let us better our home. Together we will rid the world of all ugliness and injustice.”

A wise old oyster turned his heavy head and winked at the Walrus; then, without uttering a sound, returned to his slumber in his comfy oyster bed.

Ah! But the young oysters, how eager they were to participate in some noble activity. They left their beds and scampered to the Walrus and his quiet companion.

Four by four and more and more the oysters came and filled the earth, until the land glimmered like stars. Once the Walrus was satisfied with the entourage, they began to walk. For miles and miles they walked, until all were heaving and panting and yelping to stop!

In her wonderful voice that seemed to echo in the barren land, the Walrus said “The Time has come! 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.”

The eager oysters nodded their heads to the rhythmic jibberish. Happy to be important for once, they began to whisper to each other about how fine is the Walrus’ coat and how smart seemed the mysterious Carpenter.

But, they were so tired from their long walk. They said they were not ready for any more talk. To their relief, the Carpenter decreed “Let us wait.” And he sat heavily upon a nearby rock that looked curiously like a dinner table.

But, the Walrus was impatient and could not wait. “Bread!” She screamed, “and then we can feast.”

A drop of sweat burst from the first frothy oyster head.

Grinning the Walrus turned her craggy cranium upon the dead tired oysters.

“But not on us!” they shouted.

Turning to the Walrus, the Carpenter declared “Another slice of bread, my friend?”

The Walrus was no longer listening. A tear had formed on her bubbly eye. How sad the Walrus was, at having to play such a trick on the innocent oysters. To which The Carpenter replied “The butter’s too thick!”

Weeping, weeping, weeping, the Walrus began sorting the oysters from largest to smallest, and then the Carpenter said:

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

Now, as for me, I do not wish an oyster to be!

Below is the poem in its entirety. Poetry, to be understood, must be read aloud. You can listen to a professional reading by Tom O’Bedlam on YouTube.

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.
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.”
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.
“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?
“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!”
“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said, 
 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.

I have always followed the Presidential campaigns, even though I have never respected the ideas or character of any candidate during my lifetime; nor in what direction they sought to take our country. This time, however, I choose to abstain my vote for different reasons. It is not merely due to the lunacy of the campaigns, the ineptitude of either candidate, but because of the foggy clamoring for more and more and more.

Young and old, middling and virile, all have cried out to me that I must vote for their candidate. They say, I must vote because it is my right. But all I hear is that I must vote because More: more soup kitchens or more gavels; more scalpels or more guns; more stocks or more hospitals; more red-tape or more pork-barrels; more laws or more death; more jobs or more sameness. Vote for this candidate who brings more public service experience or vote for that candidate who brings more business experience. I’m abstaining my vote because enough is enough.

I fear, as the next poet explains, that we are all

like the dog in the fable betray’d
To let go the substance and snatch at the shade.

In this Aesop’s fable a dog walks in a forest at midday, holding in his mouth a piece of meat that he stole. Crossing a smooth stream, he looks into the water and sees what he believes is another dog carrying a juicy piece of meat. Snapping greedily to get this one as well, he lets go the meat he has, only to lose it in the stream.

Moral: Catch at shadows and you lose the substance.

In succession, each candidate during my lifetime has promised More. They promised more abundance, but our abundance shrank; more freedom, but our freedoms dwindled; more opportunity, but opportunity dissipated. All my life my peers and I have been snatching at shadows. Just as “Peace in our Time” led to war, and “Change” led to sameness, so to will “Greatness Again” lead to mediocrity or “Togetherness” lead to estrangement.

Believing we are doing good, we gladly allow more and more of what we earn to be sent to our Kings and Queens. We fight wars with enemies we cannot identify. They charge us for the privilege to die; we pay for the honor of birth. They chip, clip, snip, and dip into our savings and that future which had been so bright. More is taken and only promises are returned.

And when will it end? When will come the light? I have decided to stop snatching at shadows. I have decided to join the old oyster and remain in my bed. I will keep the substance that remains to me. Come and seize it, but I will take no part of it.

Here is a poem written in the 1600s that could have been written after the second Presidential Debate of 2016.

Good people, what, will you of all be bereft —
Will you never learn wit while a penny is left?
You are all like the dog in the fable betray’d,
To let go the substance and snatch at the shade;
With specious pretences, and foreign expenses,
We war for Religion, and waste all our chink,
“Tis nipped, and “Tis clipped, ’tis lent, and ’tis spent,
Till ’tis gone, ’tis gone to the Devil I think.
We pay for our new-born, we pay for our dead,
We pay if we’re single, we pay if we’re wed;
To show that our merciful senate don’t fail,
They begin at our head and tax down to the tail,
Yet for all our expenses get nothing but blows;
At home we are cheated, abroad we’re defeated,
But the end on’it, the end on’it — the Lord above knows!

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