A Young Man and His Sister


A Young Man and His Sister - (2008)     

Lewis Carroll

for medium voice and piano


There was once a young man of Oporto

Who daily got shorter and shorter;

   The reason he said

   Was the hod on his head,

Which was filled with the heaviest mortar.


His sister, called Lucy O'Finner,

Grew constantly thinner and thinner;

   The reason was plain --

   She slept out in the rain,

And was never allowed any dinner.

[ 2 pages, circa 1' 05" ]

Lewis Carroll


Charles Dodgson is best know for his Alice stories, though there are many more texts in his collected works. These are two of his limericks placed together as a single song text, which I had come across while looking through some collections of poetry published in the early 1900s for an unrelated work. Their humor leapt out at me, and the song quickly took shape.



As the "young man" grows shorter and shorter, the successive sevenths where more usual octaves in the opening gesture create a quixotic introduction. This feature begins the accompaniment proper, as well, in a bass line of successive sevenths as "shorter" than the octave. The sister's tragic-comic tale carries on the family tradition as a simple second verse.


What are we to think of such unfortunate siblings? Oporto is the English name for Porto, the second city in Portugal which gives the term, port wine, to the language because of the wine making and shipment from this city and surrounding area. The "young man" is a laborer, carrying bricks for masonry, and his oddly named sister lives in terrible circumstances. Are they Portuguese? Irish? Immigrants? All too many questions, ultimately, for Carroll simply uses these characters in service to the demands of the limerick form. Oporto is therefore fully meant to rhyme with "shorter."




The score for A Young Man and His Sister is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.


A Young Man and His Sister