“A Boat, Beneath a Sunny Sky” by Lewis Carroll

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

(1871, Through the Looking-Glass)


In “A Boat, Beneath a Sunny Sky,” Carroll conveys the implacability of time through images of its consequences—the “pal[ing]” of a “sunny sky,” the changing of a season, and the loss of wonder or innocence that often accompanies the transition to adulthood. The acrostic formed in the poem reveals that this insight sprung from an intimate seed, as it points to “Alice Pleasance Liddell,” the child who was once his muse. As one of the “children” who raptly listened to his “tale[s],” he witnessed her “eager eye and willing ear” be “slain” by the “Autumn frosts” of adolescence. He is now “haunt[ed]” by the ghost of her childhood self, and aches to realize that he won’t ever again see this Alice with “waking eyes.”

Carroll attempts to find solace in reminding himself that there will be more children to fill his “boat” and hear his stories. But he realizes that just as Alice shed her youth, these children will also inevitably “[drift] down the stream” from “Wonderland” to adulthood. The passage of time is water that flows and brings forth life’s vessel, leaving “golden” summers of youth to “fade” into “memories” that will eventually “die.” In the last verse, Carroll hauntingly echoes the nursery rhyme “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” thus implying that this certain reality is as consuming and irrepressible as “a dream.”

Lewis Carroll was the pseudonym of Charles Dodgson, an English mathematician, logician, photographer, Anglican deacon, and writer. His literary works reveal a remarkable grasp of word play, fantasy, and logic. Carroll’s writing career was greatly influenced by his relationship with the Liddell family. The tales he told on a boat ride with three of the Liddell children, including Alice, would become the basis for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.