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Poetry Prompt 17 – Childhood Verse


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Poetry Prompt 17 – Childhood Verse

 

 

Let's Write Some Childhood Verse!

 

I can bet you've probably been around some children in recent weeks, and I know for certain you were one once ;) So, coming off the glow of the holidays, I thought we'd look at the art of Childhood Verse. These can be of two types: one assuming the POV of a child, or the other where an adult observer records the emotions raised by watching kids and their activities.

 

In terms of the history of this type of poetry, I doubt very much that people before the Industrial Revolution had much time or interest in childhood as a phase. With the growing affluence of a middle class in the 19th century, concepts of children and childhood evolved to regard young people as 'pure and innocent,' whereas before, kids were held in suspicion as 'uncivilized and wild.'

 

This bit of romantification was tempered by a sense of duty to bring them up right, and that's basically where we stand today.

 

As I said, there are two types – kid POV and grown-up POV. The first one I was introduced to when young via a tremendously popular book: Where the Sidewalk Ends.[1] I remember absolutely hating it! lol It seemed to me at the time (as a kid) like a bunch of simple-minded prattle about how we children were 'supposed' to think and feel.

 

Here is a link to one of the better examples from the book called Eighteen Flavors; it's about a fallen ice cream cone. I suppose for me the problem has always been a lack of connection with the poems in this collection, for although Silverstein wrote the masterpiece, The Giving Tree, which moved me a great deal as a kid, none of these Sidewalk poems felt touching to me at the time. I also resented the pressure to like them simply because they were childish, which adults seemed to relish; but without an emotional hook, they appeared forced. As an adult, I can appreciate them a bit more.

 

For me there are much better examples around of what it's like to be a kid, or observing children at play.

 

Sticking with the child's POV, here is The Night Wind by Eugene Field:

 

Have you ever heard the wind go "Yooooo"?
   'T is a pitiful sound to hear!
It seems to chill you through and through
   With a strange and speechless fear.
'T is the voice of the night that broods outside
   When folk should be asleep,
And many and many's the time I've cried
To the darkness brooding far and wide
   Over the land and the deep:
"Whom do you want, O lonely night,
   That you wail the long hours through?"
And the night would say in its ghostly way:
               "Yoooooooo!
               Yoooooooo!
               Yoooooooo!"

 

My mother told me long ago
   (When I was a little tad)
That when the night went wailing so,
   Somebody had been bad;
And then, when I was snug in bed,
    Whither I had been sent,
With the blankets pulled up round my head,
I'd think of what my mother'd said,
   And wonder what boy she meant!
And "Who's been bad to-day?" I'd ask
   Of the wind that hoarsely blew,
And the voice would say in its meaningful way:
               "Yoooooooo!
               Yoooooooo!
               Yoooooooo!"

 

That this was true I must allow –
   You'll not believe it, though!
Yes, though I'm quite a model now,
   I was not always so.
And if you doubt what things I say,
   Suppose you make the test;
Suppose, when you've been bad some day
And up to bed are sent away
   From mother and the rest –
Suppose you ask, "Who has been bad?"
   And then you'll hear what's true;
For the wind will moan in its ruefullest tone:
               "Yoooooooo!
               Yoooooooo!
               Yoooooooo!"[2]

 

 

Another master at this type of poem is Robert Louis Stevenson. Here's an example from his A Child's Garden of Verses.[3]

 

We built a ship upon the stairs 

All made of the back-bedroom chairs, 

And filled it full of sofa pillows 

To go a-sailing on the billows.

 

We took a saw and several nails,

And water in the nursery pails;

And Tom said, “Let us also take

An apple and a slice of cake”

Which was enough for Tom and me 

To go a-sailing on, till tea.

 

We sailed along for days and days,

And had the very best of plays;

But Tom fell out and hurt his knee,

So there was no one left but me.

 

 

I think these examples give you a good grounding on the whimsy and play-like atmosphere Childhood Verse writers wish to bring to poems told from a kid's POV.

 

The second type in this category is about how children, and watching the way they play, affect grown-ups. There are some really fine examples in this genre, and we can stick to Field and Stevenson to see how they approached the subject with an adjusted POV.

 

Here is Field's Pittypat and Tippytoe :

 

All day long they come and go –
Pittypat and Tippytoe;
   Footprints up and down the hall,
      Playthings scattered on the floor,
   Finger-marks along the wall,
      Tell-tale smudges on the door –
By these presents you shall know
Pittypat and Tippytoe.

 

How they riot at their play!
And a dozen times a day
   In they troop, demanding bread –
      Only buttered bread will do,
   And the butter must be spread
      Inches thick with sugar too!
And I never can say "No,
Pittypat and Tippytoe!"

 

Sometimes there are griefs to soothe,
Sometimes ruffled brows to smooth;
   For (I much regret to say)
      Tippytoe and Pittypat
   Sometimes interrupt their play
      With an internecine spat;
Fie, for shame! to quarrel so –
Pittypat and Tippytoe!

 

Oh, the thousand worrying things
Every day recurrent brings!
   Hands to scrub and hair to brush,
      Search for playthings gone amiss,
   Many a wee complaint to hush,
      Many a little bump to kiss;
Life seems one vain, fleeting show
To Pittypat and Tippytoe!

 

And when day is at an end,
There are little duds to mend;
   Little frocks are strangely torn,
      Little shoes great holes reveal,
   Little hose, but one day worn,
      Rudely yawn at toe and heel!
Who but you could work such woe,
Pittypat and Tippytoe?

 

But when comes this thought to me:
"Some there are that childless be,"
   Stealing to their little beds,
      With a love I cannot speak,
   Tenderly I stroke their heads –
      Fondly kiss each velvet cheek.
God help those who do not know
A Pittypat or Tippytoe!

 

On the floor and down the hall,
Rudely smutched upon the wall,
   There are proofs in every kind
      Of the havoc they have wrought,
   And upon my heart you'd find
      Just such trade-marks, if you sought;
Oh, how glad I am 'tis so,
Pittypat and Tippytoe![4]

 

 

Stevenson created a poem where he personified 'play' as a character who comes out and recedes much like the playthings do in the Toy Story films. Here is his The Unseen Playmate:

 

When children are playing alone on the green, 
In comes the playmate that never was seen. 
When children are happy and lonely and good, 
The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood. 
 

Nobody heard him, and nobody saw, 
His is a picture you never could draw, 
But he's sure to be present, abroad or at home, 
When children are happy and playing alone. 

He lies in the laurels, he runs on the grass, 
He sings when you tinkle the musical glass; 
When e'er you are happy and cannot tell why, 
The Friend of the Children is sure to be by! 

He loves to be little, he hates to be big, 
'T is he that inhabits the caves that you dig; 
'T is he when you play with your soldiers of tin 
That sides with the Frenchmen and never can win. 

'T is he, when at night you go off to your bed, 
Bids you go to sleep and not trouble your head; 
For wherever they're lying, in cupboard or shelf, 
'T is he will take care of your playthings himself! [5]

 

 

And the ultimate pinnacle of this type of poem is arguably one of the very greatest poems in the English language, The Children's Hour, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

 

Between the dark and the daylight,

      When the night is beginning to lower,

Comes a pause in the day's occupations,

      That is known as the Children's Hour.

 

I hear in the chamber above me

      The patter of little feet,

The sound of a door that is opened,

      And voices soft and sweet.

 

From my study I see in the lamplight,

      Descending the broad hall stair,

Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,

      And Edith with golden hair.

 

A whisper, and then a silence:

      Yet I know by their merry eyes

They are plotting and planning together

      To take me by surprise.

 

A sudden rush from the stairway,

      A sudden raid from the hall!

By three doors left unguarded

      They enter my castle wall!

 

They climb up into my turret

      O'er the arms and back of my chair;

If I try to escape, they surround me;

      They seem to be everywhere.

 

They almost devour me with kisses,

      Their arms about me entwine,

Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen

      In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

 

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,

      Because you have scaled the wall,

Such an old mustache as I am

      Is not a match for you all!

 

I have you fast in my fortress,

      And will not let you depart,

But put you down into the dungeon

      In the round-tower of my heart.

 

And there will I keep you forever,

      Yes, forever and a day,

Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,

      And moulder in dust away![6]  

 

 

Flawless, and lest you are inclined to think it's overly sentimental, the truth is that Longfellow's young daughter had just died when he wrote it. This poem is his mourning effort, and the eternal tribute of a father's love.      

 

 

The prompt: write two Childhood Verses, one from a kid's point of view, and one from the perspective of an adult. For the first, recall a particular way that you used to like to play, and tell the reader about it. For the grown-up poem, remember those times when you were a child and did not want to go to bed; write the poem from the POV of the adult trying to make you fall asleep. You can use any stanza pattern or rhyme scheme you feel best conveys your concept.        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

--------------------------------------------

[1] Sheldon Allan Silverstein, New York 1975

[2] From Poems of Childhood, New York 1904

[3] From A Child's Garden of Verses, Chicago 1916

[4] From Poems of Childhood, New York 1904

[5] From A Child's Garden of Verses, Chicago 1916

[6] First published in the Atlantic Monthly, Boston 1860

Edited by AC Benus
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Thanks to Timothy M. and Mikiesboy for input and editorial assistance. And a special shout-out to Puppilull, with whom I shared the Pittypat and Tippytoe poem a while back.   

Edited by AC Benus
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You must have broken a speed record there! I had a similar reaction, but I forced myself to stop. Not sure it was the right choice...

I know.. it was really weird, but it was just there in my head, so I wrote em down... Always write em down Puppilull, you dont need to use it, but what if it's brilliant??  Don't miss it.

 

It's just what I do. And trust me, I have notebooks and folders filled with stuff .. from dreams or flashes of things .. some I've used years later. Some will just sit I'm sure... 

Edited by Mikiesboy
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Between the emotions and the red wine, I'm pretty sure it's shite. That kind of honesty needs more thought on my part.

 

I'll take on the prompt soon. Or I'll combust...

...oh dear, and the true cause of spontaneous human combustion is revealed...poetry musings. KAAA-Powwwwoughhhh

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...oh dear, and the true cause of spontaneous human combustion is revealed...poetry musings. KAAA-Powwwwoughhhh

I was actually very afraid of that particular phenomenon when I was growing up. Like nightmare afraid. I was such a weird child. LOL

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Man, I read the prompt and had barely mentioned something to AC, when a poem was in my head and then a second one...   I cant get them out of my head, so rash or not, good or bad or not, here they are:

 

https://www.gayauthors.org/story/mikiesboy/timmysjournal/24

Thanks for taking the poetry prompt challenge, Tim! I have to say, I'm impressed with both the speed and quality with which you tackled these. Bravo!

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Thanks for taking the poetry prompt challenge, Tim! I have to say, I'm impressed with both the speed and quality with which you tackled these. Bravo!

Honestly, you asked me to look at the prompt and after I finished the Longfellow piece (which I love and find heartbreaking) and the first stanza of And To Sleep, My Son was finished in my head.. I had to write it down... So I guess now I can go back to do prompt 7!!  

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Thanks for taking the poetry prompt challenge, Adi! I left a review, and I'd like to see you come back for more Childhood Verse

I will because I wasn't satisfied with my poems.

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I need to mention Lewis Carroll here. He was an Ultimate Childhood Verse Master worthy of our worship.

Oh man... when i went to school.. shoot. I remember doing Jabberwocky... we memorized it and I remember some of it.. also memorized one about Puffins, but I'll save that... lol

 

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

  And the mome raths outgrabe

 

I haven't thought of it for years ... but you're right Dr. O ... he should be mentioned. 

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I need to mention Lewis Carroll here. He was an Ultimate Childhood Verse Master worthy of our worship.

Thanks for the comment. He certainly was a unique and gifted writer - a recent poem of mine references 'drink me potions' and going down the rabbit hole ;) 

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Oh man... when i went to school.. shoot. I remember doing Jabberwocky... we memorized it and I remember some of it.. also memorized one about Puffins, but I'll save that... lol

 

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

  And the mome raths outgrabe

 

I haven't thought of it for years ... but you're right Dr. O ... he should be mentioned. 

Thanks, Tim. It's wonderful that the poem touched you as a young person. As you can remember it all these years later, it obviously did :yes: 

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Thanks, Tim. It's wonderful that the poem touched you as a young person. As you can remember it all these years later, it obviously did :yes:

I had to memorize it ... but i dont think i recall it all ... 

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And this I miss for it was never mine to have ...

 

I remember Winkin, Blinkin and Nod as my mum read it to me but the others no. We had other bedtime stories. I've still not actually read Lewis Carrol though like most I am familiar with a few of his characters.

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And this I miss for it was never mine to have ...

 

I remember Winkin, Blinkin and Nod as my mum read it to me but the others no. We had other bedtime stories. I've still not actually read Lewis Carrol though like most I am familiar with a few of his characters.

Loved that one too dugh, and The Highwayman and The Cremation of Sam McGee

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