Summary / Paraphrase
“You Are Old, Father William” is a poem by Lewis Carroll written in a question-and-answer format. In the poem, there are two voices: that of a father and his son exchanging conflicting views. The son asks the father many questions about his odd behaviour in his old age. The father replies to all the questions in a funny way. Read the text and paraphrase of the poem to understand it well.
In the first stanza, the speaker states that Father William is old and that he has white hair. He asks him why he constantly stands on his head.
We learn that the questioner is Father William’s son. Father William’s answer to the question in the first stanza is that when he was younger he thought he might hurt his brain if he stood on his head, but now he knows he has no brain so he does it repeatedly.
The son repeats his statement that Father William is old, “excessively fat”? adds to it the statement that he is extremely fat, and asks why his father is still doing gymnastics.
The father replies that when he was younger he used a cream that kept his arms and legs flexible and offers to sell his son a couple of boxes of the cream.
The son repeats, once again, his statement that Father William is old and adds to it the statement that his father’s teeth and jaws are too feeble to eat anything except fat. Then he asks his father how he was able to finish all of the goose they ate at dinner, including the tough parts which usually are not eaten.
Father William replies that he had been a lawyer when he making about himself by saying was younger and that, far from being weak, his jaws were that he uses his strong jaws to exercised by arguing all of his law cases twice – once for talk, not to eat? practice with his wife, and once before the court. He does not mention eating but emphasizes the fact that he uses his strong jaws for effective talking.
The young man once again points out that his father is old and that his eyesight should be weak by now. He asks his father how he balances an eel on the end of his nose and how he got to be so smart.
Father William says that three questions are enough for him to answer and criticizes his son for “giving himself airs,” or being self-important and conceited. He says he doesn’t have time to listen to his son’s nonsense and tells him to leave or he will kick him down the stairs.
Theme of the poem
The poet of the poem “You Are Old, Father William”, Lewis Carrol takes generation gap as the theme. He brings this theme for our focus sarcastically through the dialogue between the old man and the young man who represent the older generation and the younger generation.
In the poem, we come to understand the fact that young people think that, when people become old, they become very week. But we know that all are not like that. The old people sometimes stronger than younger. We also understand that the young man can’t stand on head through the below lines. It really shows the gap between the older generation and the younger generation.
“And yet you incessantly stand your head”
Do you think at your age, it is right”
Not only that, the answer given by the old man caused to win from the conversation.
“I feared it would injure my brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none”
This answer generates humour and satire. And also we see that old man is matured enough to remark an answer like this, but the younger shows that he isn’t matured through asking questions again and again. We understand that the younger man should be ashamed of the old man’s answer. But he can’t understand it. It’s a gap between the old generation and the young generation and also it generates humour.
“And argued each case with my wife”
We know that in modern society, people surrender to their wives. But this line shows that old people weren’t like that and the husband was respectable. So it generates humour and scars m because younger men surrender to their wives.
To bring the theme in a vivid manner, he uses some devices. When we study the poem we see the old man in our minds as a strong, healthy one and also the young one as a lethargic, ill healthy person. So he uses visual images.
The poem is given as a conversation between two men and also in questioning and answering pattern. Because of this dialogue pattern and visual images, the poem has become high dramatically.
The poet also uses ab ab rhyming pattern. The rhyming words are said-head, white-right, son-none, brain-again, before-door, fat-that, locks-box, supple-couple, weak-beak, suet-do it, law-jaw, wife-life, suppose-nose, ever-clever, enough-stuff, airs-stairs.
So we realize that poet takes generation gap as the theme and uses humour and satire, visual images, dialogue pattern, questioning, and answering system, dramatic effects, regular rhyming pattern as well to bring the theme vividly.
Reading Is Fun | Questions and Answers
Q. 1. What did the young man say to Father William?
Ans. The young man told Father William that he was old and his hair had become white and he advised him should not carry on doing what made him happy because it could be dangerous and he might hurt himself at his old age. He told him that standing on his head all the time might be damaging his head
Q. 2. What was Father William’s reply?
Ans. Father William answers that when he was younger he thought he might hurt his brain if he stood on his head, but now he knows he has no brain so he does it repeatedly.
Q. 3. What was the funny thing Father William did in his old age?
Ans. The funny thing that Father William did in his old age was that he used to stand on his head. His son found it very dangerous and thought he might hurt his brain if he stood on his head He complained to him not to attempt such things in his old age.
Q. 4. How did Father William keep his limbs flexible in his youth?
Ans. When he was young, Father William rubbed on an ointment in order to keep his limbs flexible.
Q. 5. What advice did the young man give to Father William?
Ans. The young man advised Father William that he should not stand on his head because it is dangerous. It might hurt him because he had been getting old and fatty day by day. He should avoid such funny adventures in his old age.
Q.6. The poem is full of humourous expressions like – ‘And yet you incessantly stand on your head.’ Write down the other humourous expressions / lines from the poem.
“I feared it would injure my brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none”
This expression generates humour and satire. And also we see that old man is matured enough to remark an answer like this, but the younger shows that he isn’t matured through asking questions again and again. Some more humorous expression are:
‘Allow me to sell you a couple’, ‘yet you finished the goose’, ‘and argued each case with my wife’, ‘you balance an eel on the end of your nose’, ‘be off’, ‘sage’, etc.
1. Why did the young man think that Father William might injure his brain?
Ans. He thought that him standing on his head all the time might be damaging his head.
2. ‘You are old, Father William…’
List two other ways the poet has shown that father William is an old man.
Ans. Accept any two of the following:
• his hair has become whiter;
• he says ‘…in my youth’, meaning when he was younger;
• the young man says ‘…at your age…’, meaning he is too old to be doing it.
3. Looking through the extract of the poem, do you think Father William should continue to stand on his head? Why/why not?
Ans. Accept reasonable answers, such as
• Yes – he should carry on doing what makes him happy while he still can.
• No – it could be dangerous and he might hurt himself at his old age
1. ‘Downstairs’ is a compound word used in the last line of the poem which is made up of ‘down’ + ‘stairs’ = ‘downstairs’. Now consult a dictionary and find at least ten more words that end or start with ‘stair’ or ‘stairs’. Before consulting the dictionary, you may do this exercise in the class with your friends.
Ans. 1. Staircase, 2. Upstairs, 3. Stairwell, 4. Stairway, 5. Stairhead, 6. Stairless, 7. Backstairs, 8. Stairsteps, 9. Belowstairs, 10. Stairmaster
2. In the first four lines of the poem, the last four words, i.e., ‘said’ and ‘head’ and ‘white’ and ‘right’ rhyme with each other alternately (that is, they end in similar sounds). Now find the other rhyming words used in the poem.
Ans. Other rhyming words used in the poem are:
The rhyming words are son-none, brain-again, before-door, fat-that, locks-box, supple-couple, weak-beak, suet-do it, law-jaw, wife-life, suppose-nose, ever-clever, enough-stuff, airs-stairs.
In the poem, we find that Father William’s son seemed to be inquisitive and caring. Do you think we should also be inquisitive and caring towards our elders in our families? Discuss this in your class.
Write a short paragraph on Father William.
Father William, in the poem, is a humorous character. He is an old man. His son asks him many questions about what he does in his old age. The answers all the questions of his son in a funny manner. The old man is not only happy and healthy, but he clowns around, he stands on his head, he somersaults, he balances an eel on his nose, he eats as much as he pleases; at the end of the poem, he tells the boy he’s had enough of his questions, and that he’d better go away. The old man uses his age as an excuse to do whatever he pleases, to play around, to eat as much as he wants. The old man also takes advantage of the young boy’s fears of age by trying to sell him some ointment which he says will keep his limbs supple when he gets old. He even misuses his authority, and as the man with the bigger stick, tells the boy to go away, because he’s asking too many questions, like most boys his age. He’s simply curious and doesn’t have as much experience as the old man, but the man dismisses him because the has less power than he does, and therefore doesn’t merit his attention, or at least, not very much of it.