Friday, September 20, 2013

Seven Quick Takes: Favorite Childhood Poems

1. Jabberwocky

No list of children's poems is complete without mentioning the Jabberwock. In case you live under a rock and didn't have a real childhood, it's a nonsense poem written by Lewis Carroll and included in Alice Through the Looking Glass (not in Alice in Wonderland - in the sequel, which in my opinion is better). All together now: 

Twas bryllyg, and the slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves;
And the mome raths outgrabe.

 Beware the Jabberwock my son!

2. The Raggedy Man by James Whitcomb Rhiley

Do you know about James Whitcomb Rhiley? If not, look him up. He does wonderful local color stories and poems, complete with dialect (typically a rural Midwestern dialect). This is my favorite because of the simple love and affection of the child narrator: 

An' The Raggedy Man, he knows most rhymes,
An' tells 'em, ef I be good, sometimes:
Knows 'bout Giunts, an' Griffuns, an' Elves,
An' the Squidgicum-Squees 'at swallers the'rselves:
An', wite by the pump in our pasture-lot,
He showed me the hole 'at the Wunks is got,
'At lives 'way deep in the ground, an' can
Turn into me, er 'Lizabuth Ann!

3. When the Frost is on the Punkin'

This is another gem by Mr. Riley. Don't you feel this way about fall?

When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here— 
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days

From Childcraft Book Two, my introduction to poetry

4. The Purple Cow

Everyone knows this: "I've never seen a purple cow, I hope I never see one. But I can tell you anyhow, I'd rather see than be one!"

The author, Gelett Burgess, lived to regret his little poem because everyone quoted it at him. He had this to say about that: 

Ah, yes, I wrote the "Purple Cow"—
I'm Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I'll Kill you if you Quote it!

Another story tells of how Burgess fled to the kitchen at a party to escape the assault of quotes. There his host was beating an egg. The host said: "I've never beat a rotten egg, I hope I never beat one. But I can tell you anyhow I'd rather beat than eat one."

5.  The Highwayman

Yes, it's overdone, and overwrought, and all the rest. But I have such good memories of it. My grandmama was a poetry reader extraordinaire, and I always hear the tone of foreboding in her voice: 

    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. 

You may want to read it through before you read it to your impressionable children though. The woman buries a knife in her chest rather than lose her man - in gory detail. 

6. The Potatoes' Ballad 

This is a sad poem about how the sweet potato attended an Irish potatoes' waltz. He danced with the fair potato lady and fell in love, but the Irish potatoes were jealous and through him out in the cold. It sounds silly but it's beautiful. It used to make me cry (I was six, OK?)

7. The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat (or The Duel)

Don't you just love that picture? This was also in Childcraft. I love the way it starts: "The gingham dog and the calico cat, side by side on the table sat." That's the kind of rhyme that sticks with you, no matter how old you get. 

The animals proceed to have a fight to end all fights, but The Chinese plate and the Dutch clock had different accounts. One thing's for sure: it wasn't pretty. 

Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
      But the truth about the cat and pup
      Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
            (The old Dutch clock it told me so,
            And that is how I came to know.
) - See more at:
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up! 

My poetry teacher in college said that children have an innate gift for rhythm that leaves when they get older unless it's carefully fostered. Think about it: Liar, liar, pants on fire! Isn't that delicious?


  1. 1. I LOVE the poem Jabberwocky! When I was in Junior High, it was one of the items in our textbook, and one of my friends and I memorized the entire thing. We even came up with our own version of gallumphing, and did in fact gallumph across the yard at recess. What can I say, we were special. ;)

    5. Are you familiar with the singer Loreena McKennitt? She's a fantastic musician and has just a magical voice. She set The Highwayman to music, and if you haven't heard it before, I highly suggest it (if you have heard it before, then rock on!). Here is the link to the youtube video of a live performance: Enjoy!

  2. Yes! I had forgotten about the sung version, but thanks for reminding me. And I love how y'all did that at recess. Nerdy kids are the best.