In my last post on this subject, I talked about Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree books – if you missed the post, you can read it here.
This time, I’m concentrating on poetry from my childhood. Now, this is where I have to confess that, as an adult, I’m not particularly keen on poetry. I do like some I come across – Simon Armitage, for example – but I don’t deliberately seek it.
As a child, however, poetry captured my imagination. In particular, I remember my grandma bought me A Child’s Garden of Verses by R.L. Stevenson. I still have that copy. I loved it because each poem described life through a child’s eyes. At last! I realised I wasn’t the only child with imagined worlds in my head!
In that book, I particularly loved The Little Land, in which a child who is forced to sit and be bored in a roomful of adults simply shuts his eyes and goes “sailing away . . . To the pleasant Land of Play”, totally transported until he must come back to dull reality. Similarly, in The Land of Counterpane, a child ill in bed imagines that bed as a land
populated by his toys to keep himself occupied. The first poem I learned off by heart was from this book – Bed in Summer. I had a lot of sympathy with the child who didn’t see why they should have to go to bed while it was still light. But my absolute favourite was The Shadow. I learned that off by heart, too, and I thought (still do) that it was such a clever poem.
That was a book that I would read alone. But I had another book of poems, an anthology called My Kind of Verse, which my older brother would sometimes read to me on the odd occasion my parents were out. Since I was only allowed two poems, I chose carefully, picking longer ones to make the treat last 🙂 It might be A Song About Myself (“There was a naughty Boy, A naughty boy was he …”) by John Keats, perhaps The Jumblies or The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear. But one of my choices was almost always The Akond of Swat (again by Lear) because I loved the way it sounded, the way my brother emphasised the end of each line, and the fact that it conjured up of a picture of … well, I didn’t know quite what, but that was the whole point! (“Who, or why, or which, or what, is the Akond of SWAT?”)
On visits to my local library, I would happily work my way through their Dr Seuss books, but since I read those alone, I had no idea how wonderful they sounded until I started reading them to my own children. I love Dr Seuss books – the way they sound, the messages behind the stories, the nonsense words, and of course those fabulous illustrations.
This post wouldn’t be complete without mention of The Lion and Albert by Marriott Edgar. As a northerner, this wonderful poem was instilled in me from an early age, when my great aunt would recite it to us. Most of our family knows it off by heart, or almost. Wonderfully witty and very northern! We have enjoyed many a happy time with other poems by Edgar, too, such as The Jubilee Sov’rin and Runcorn Ferry, but Albert’s adventure with Wallace the lion is in our blood!
Why and how have these favourite childhood poems influenced me?
They showed me that it was okay to imagine, and that those imaginings could be captured by words. They taught me the pleasure of words arranged in a certain way, and that the choice of a word could be of crucial importance to get an idea across – finding the perfect word, or sometimes using a totally unexpected word to surprise and delight the reader. And they allowed me the simple pleasure of enjoying a perfect rhythm in their recital, like a spoken music, bringing comfort and enjoyment to my childhood years.