Posted by: lafouch | January 26, 2010

Poetry of Childhood

Tonight as I left my client’s house the wind was blowing hard with a light rain. The trees were bending. Suddenly, tossing around in my head was the poem my mother frequently quoted:
The wind she blow like hurricane and then she blow some more.
But you don’t get drowned on Lac St. Pierre, so long you stay on shore.

I researched this when I got home tonight and discovered it’s from a poem by the Canadian poet, William Henry Drummond called The Wreck of the “Julie Plante”. The end of the poem is the moral which my mother slightly misquoted, perhaps because she wasn’t French Canadian, but goes like this:

Now all good wood scow sailor man
Tak’ warning by dat storm
An’ go an’ marry some nice French girl
An’ leev on wan beeg farm
De win’ can blow lak hurricane
An’ s’pose she blow some more,
You can’t get drown on Lac St. Pierre
So long you stay on shore.

Don’t know why or when she learned it, though it was probably in school. It certainly was appropriate tonight.

My mother often quoted poetry, usually from the same two or three poems. The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was a favorite. She would quote, “I bit my arm I sucked the blood and cried A Sail A Sail” or “Yea, slimy things did crawl upon a slimy sea.” Another of her favorite quotes was Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree.”
So, I have bits and pieces of poems strolling around my mind. Fitting for today and actually for all this week has been,
“Raining, raining all night long,
Sometimes loud, sometimes soft, Just like a song.
I’ll sail my boat tomorrow in wonderful new places,
But first I’ll take the watering pot and wash the pansy’s faces.”
Among my childhood books was Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses”. In the summer when we used candlelight to go to bed, I would think of this poem. My mother would tell me how this poem was quite real to her when she was little.
Bed in Summer
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?
One of Stevenson’s poems was one of the first ones I learned. It was:
My Shadow
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow–
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes goes so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close behind me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Though I don’t sit down and read a lot of poetry now, I believe these early experiences of being read poetry (and stories) by my family helped me enjoy reading as a life-long entertainment.
NOTE: Photos are ones I took of recent wave and wind action along the coast here in California.

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