Poetry Wednesday: Dedications

This one is for my six-year old, who wandered up to my desk last night, a full hour after her bedtime, to tell me with grave sadness that her sleeping bag  had a loose thread hanging from it. 

It should be noted that her sleeping bag had been rolled up tight and tucked into her closet when I’d kissed her goodnight.

Bed in Summer
(Robert Louis Stevenson)Crazy Sunny

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

And this one is dedicated to that bullhorned bird who sits outside my window every morning to practice the only two notes he knows, one of which is flat. I don’t care what Mr. Frost says—you’d best not break camouflage where I can see you, because I have a shoe with your name on it, bucko.

The Oven Bird
(Robert Frost)

There is a singer everyone has heard,Burdie
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

And that one little kid two Saturdays ago, who took to the library like an untrained puppy takes to the Abyssinian rug:

On the Gift of a Book to a Child
(Hilaire Belloc)

Child! do not throw this book about!
Refrain from the unholy pleasure
Of cutting all the pictures out!
Preserve it as your chiefest treasure.

Child, have you never heard it saidcarved book
That you are heir to all the ages?
Why, then, your hands were never made
To tear these beautiful thick pages!

Your little hands were made to take
The better things and leave the worse ones:
They also may be used to shake
The Massive Paws of Elder Persons.

And when your prayers complete the day,
Darling, your little tiny hands
Were also made, I think, to pray
For men that lose their fairylands.

This is for those of us with Leaning Towers of Literacy on our bedside tables—and in our living rooms and bathrooms and kitchens and, and, and—who might complain about the length of their To Be Read lists, but have no intention of stopping until the Domino Effect buries us alive:

Of Modern Books
(Carolyn Wells)

A Pantoum

Of making many books there is no end,
Though myriads have to deep oblivion gone;
Each day new manuscripts are being penned,
And still the ceaseless tide of ink flows on.

Though myriads have to deep oblivion gone,
New volumes daily issue from the press;
And still the ceaseless tide of ink flows on—
The prospect is disheartening, I confess.

New volumes daily issue from the press;
My pile of unread books I view aghast.
The prospect is disheartening, I confess;
Why will these modern authors write so fast?

My pile of unread books I view aghast—
Of course I must keep fairly up to date—
Why will these modern authors write so fast?Drawers
They seem to get ahead of me of late.

Of course I must keep fairly up to date;
The books of special merit I must read;
They seem to get ahead of me of late,
Although I skim them very fast indeed.

The books of special merit I must read;
And then the magazines come round again;
Although I skim them very fast indeed,
I can’t get through with more than eight or ten.

And then the magazines come round again!
How can we stem this tide of printer’s ink?
I can’t get through with more than eight or ten—
It is appalling when I stop to think.

How can we stem this tide of printer’s ink?
Of making many books there is no end.
It is appalling when I stop to think
Each day new manuscripts are being penned!

And this one is dedicated to my dear friend who interrupted a perfectly good bout of anxiety and told me to write what I want to write, because I want to write it.  Now.

Lines on Nonsense
(Eliza Lee Follen)

Yes, nonsense is a treasure!
I love it from my heart;Duck!2
The only earthly pleasure
That never will depart.

But, as for stupid reason,
That stalking, ten-foot rule,
She’s always out of season,
A tedious, testy fool.

She’s like a walking steeple,
With a clock for face and eyes,
Still bawling to all people,
Time bids us to be wise.

While nonsense on the spire
A weathercock you’ll find,
Than reason soaring higher,
And changing with the wind.

The clock too oft deceives,
Says what it cannot prove;
While every one believes
The vane that turns above.

Reason oft speaks unbidden,
And chides us to our face;
For which she should be chidden,
And taught to know her place.

While nonsense smiles and chatters,Inside a Book
And says such charming things,
Like youthful hope she flatters;
And like a syren sings.

Her charm’s from fancy borrowed,
For she is fancy’s pet;
Her name is on her forehead,
In rainbow colors set.

Then, nonsense let us cherish,
Far, far from reason’s light;
Lest in her light she perish,
And vanish from our sight.

Thanks.  I needed that.

Got any dedications?

Poetry Wednesday: The Venn Diagram of Hilaire Belloc

I was minding my own business last week—hush, it could happen—when a friend sent me a copy of a poem called “Sarah Byng, Who Could Not Read and Was Tossed into a Thorny Hedge by a Bull” with a note saying that it reminded her of me, “but in a totally twisted way.”

This worried me, but I read it anyway:

Some years ago you heard me sing
My doubts on Alexander Byng.
His sister Sarah now inspires
My jaded Muse, my failing fires.
Of Sarah Byng the tale is told
How when the child was twelve years old
She could not read or write a line.
Her sister Jane, though barely nine,
Could spout the Catechism through
And parts of Matthew Arnold too,
While little Bill who came between
Was quite unnaturally keen
On ‘Athalie’, by Jean Racine.
But not so Sarah! Not so Sal!
She was a most uncultured girl
Who didn’t care a pinch of snuff
For any literary stuff
And gave the classics all a miss.
Observe the consequence of this!
As she was walking home one day,
Upon the fields across her way
A gate, securely padlocked, stood,
And by its side a piece of wood
On which was painted plain and full,
Alas! The young illiterate
Went blindly forward to her fate,
And ignorantly climbed the gate!
Now happily the Bull that day
Was rather in the mood for play
Than goring people through and through
As Bulls so very often do;
He tossed her lightly with his horns
Into a prickly hedge of thorns,
And stood by laughing while she strode
And pushed and struggled to the road.
The lesson was not lost upon
The child, who since has always gone
A long way round to keep away
From signs, whatever they may say,
And leaves a padlocked gate alone.
Moreover she has wisely grown
Confirmed in her instinctive guess
That literature breeds distress.

I wondered when Roald Dahl had written this and how I’d missed it when I noticed the poet’s name and wondered who the heck Hilaire Belloc was and how on earth I’d missed him.*

Hilaire Belloc

Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc (thank you very much) was born in France in 1870, married an American in 1896, and became an English citizen in 1902, which goes to show you something, but I’m not sure what that would be.  He was apparently known as a generous, thoughtful man who could hold a grudge like nobody’s business, as a prolific writer in almost every form except drama, and as a thorough, devout, relentless Catholic.

And he obviously had a wicked sense of humor, despite his expression in any photograph I could find of him. “Sarah Byng” is one of his Cautionary Tales for Children, which probably isn’t entirely indicative of its true target audience, as most of them have titles like “Godolphin Horne, who was cursed with the sin of pride and became a Boot-black” and “Matilda, who told lies and was burned to death.”

Mr. Belloc’s Moral Alphabet is also not what one might ordinarily expect, either:


The Dreadful Dinotherium he
Will have to do his best for D.
The early world observed with awe
His back, indented like a saw.
His look was gay, his voice was strong;
His tail was neither short nor long;
His trunk, or elongated nose,
Was not so large as some suppose;
His teeth, as all the world allows,
Were graminivorous, like a cow’s.
He therefore should have wished to pass
Long peaceful nights upon the Grass,
But being mad the brute preferred
To roost in branches, like a bird.1

A creature heavier than a whale,
You see at once, could hardly fail
To suffer badly when he slid
And tumbled (as he always did).
His fossil, therefore, comes to light
All broken up: and serve him right.

If you were born to walk the ground,
Remain there; do not fool around.

FOOTNOTES: 1We have good reason to suppose
He did so, from his claw-like toes

Poetry with built in footnotes.  Dude.**

But Mr. Belloc, who served as an MP in the House of Commons for several years, had a serious side as well. He supported radical social and economic reforms and disapproved of British imperialism, particularly in South Africa. He also disliked capitalism and preferred the idea of distributism, a system that would involve the granting—by the Catholic Church—of small, self-sufficient landholdings that would provide for the individual’s needs without the wage and tax problems that he felt were ruining England.

He wrote a few essays about this—which didn’t endear him to most of Parliament, who called him a feudal papist, among other things—and a poem or two, which endears him to me, because regardless of politics, this is driven stuff:

The Rebel
(Hilaire Beloc)

There is a wall of which the stones
Are lies and bribes and dead men’s bones.
And wrongfully this evil wall
Denies what all men made for all,
And shamelessly this wall surrounds
Our homesteads and our native grounds.

But I will gather and I will ride,
And I will summon a countryside,
And many a man shall hear my halloa
Who never had thought the horn to follow;
And many a man shall ride with me
Who never had thought on earth to see
High Justice in her armoury.

When we find them where they stand,
A mile of men on either hand,
I mean to charge from right away
And force the flanks of their array,
And press them inward from the plains,
And drive them clamouring down the lanes,
And gallop and harry and have them down,
And carry the gates and hold the town.
Then shall I rest me from my ride
With my great anger satisfied.

Only, before I eat and drink,
When I have killed them all, I think
That I will batter their carven names,
And slit the pictures in their frames,
And burn for scent their cedar door,
And melt the gold their women wore,
And hack their horses at the knees,
And hew to death their timber trees,
And plough their gardens deep and through—
And all these things I mean to do
For fear perhaps my little son
Should break his hands, as I have done.

So thanks to Val for introducing me to Mr. Beloc, so I could finally center that Roald Dahl / Lewis Carroll / Charles Addams Venn diagram I’ve been working on for so long.

It’s looking good.

*I expect a few of you just said, “What do you mean who the heck—he’s Hilaire BelocAnd you call yourself an Anglophile.”  Fair enough.

**This one tickles me, too:


E stands for Egg.

The Moral of this verse
Is applicable to the Young. Be terse.