Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Remembering the poetry of childhood

The book pictured here was one of the favorite volumes of my childhood. I believe The Golden Treasury of Poetry , edited by poet and anthologist Louis Untermeyer, had actually been a Christmas gift from my parents to my sister Lisa. But I remember spending hours poring over it; reading and re-reading my favorite poems.

I even enjoyed and appreciated Untermeyer's notes accompanying many of the poems, and I loved the illustrations by the wonderful Joan Walsh Anglund. (If you're not familiar with Anglund's work, do check it out. The children in her illustrations are so winsomely charming and appealing.)

Why am I reminiscing about the poetry of my childhood? Because Rebecca of Rebecca Writes has declared February to be Children's Poetry Month. She's urging people to blog their favorite children's poems and report back to her.

Granted, the Golden Treasury didn't consist only of poems specifically for children. Not by a long shot (although it was, of course, child-appropriate and family-friendly.) It was a child's introduction to great poetry, and there's a difference.

So, what were my favorite poems? It's hard to choose just one. I loved the whimsical humor of Ogden Nash. I loved limericks and seasonal poems. I loved the ballads--my already romantic mind thrilled to Alfred Noyes' The Highwayman:

"The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—-
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door."

I enjoyed little gems like William Blake's Infant Joy:

"I have no name;
I am but two days old."
What shall I call thee?
"I happy am,
Joy is my name."
Sweet joy befall thee!

Pretty joy!
Sweet joy, but two days old.
Sweet Joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while;
Sweet joy befall thee!

And this one from Robert Browning:

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!

I was introduced to poets like Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, e. e. cummings, Christina Rosetti, William Shakespeare, Vachel Lindsay, Walter de la Mare, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, and a host of others.

The quirky humor of Lewis Carroll's The White Knight's Song, from Alice in Wonderland, appealed to me:

I'll tell thee everything I can;
There's little to relate,
I saw an aged, aged man,
A-sitting on a gate.
"Who are you, aged man?" I said.
"And how is it you live?"
And his answer trickled through my head
Like water through a sieve.

He said, "I look for butterflies
That sleep among the wheat;
I make them into mutton-pies,
And sell them in the street.
I sell them unto men," he said,
"Who sail on stormy seas;
And that's the way I get my bread--
A trifle, if you please."

But I was thinking of a plan
To dye one's whiskers green,
And always use so large a fan
That they could not be seen.
So, having no reply to give
To what the old man said,
I cried, "Come, tell me how you live!"
And thumped him on the head.

(You can read the whole thing here.)

I don't know where that book is. The last time I saw it, the cover had broken apart and whole sections were missing. But the more I think about that book, the more I want to own it again--and maybe even a copy for my new grandson. (There are some copies available online.) What better way to give him a love and appreciation for poetry?

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