Finally, a post about a poem, after not being able to do this the last two months. The poem I picked this time around (not related to my theme this month) is A City Sand-Pile by Edmund Leamy. Leamy (1848-1904) (I hope I looked up the right one) was an Irish MP, and Barrister, who also wrote poetry and some collections of Irish Fairy Tales.
(Not quite the right picture, but you get the idea!)
This is a short (only three stanzas) light-hearted poem about a sand-pile left in the street by “building men” who little know the sheer joy their carelessness or thoughtlessness (“Little did they think or care”) would bring to a whole lot of little children who come upon the pile and rush eagerly to play in it.
The poem captures beautifully the children’s surprise and delight at not only finding the sand-pile, but more importantly at a chance to really play and enjoy themselves, a chance that makes it for them a golden day―a contrast to that “dingy street” on which the sand-pile is or the “cloudy skies” of the city, a city which is dull and grey, and offers them little chance to play as children need. This second stanza captures these feelings and contrasts so well that the reader can literally hear the children’s shrieks as they play, and sense the rapture that they must be feeling at a chance to be children. My own words can’t describe it as well, so here are Leamy’s own:
Children in a sand-pile
On a golden day,
Glory! How their eager cries
Filled the city’s clouded skies
As with unrestrained surprise
They found that they could play.
This stray sand-pile that the building men little thought about, that was perhaps no longer much use to them, has given so many so much happiness. This for children, as the third stanza tells us, who have never known the beach, or sea, the mountains or fields, trees or streams, at least he writes they have this sand-pile still, that makes their lives complete. Their happiness in a way feels so much “deeper” than perhaps if they had access to fancier gadgets or toys.
While Leamy’s poem is light and cheerful, and captures one of the joys of childhood, in this last stanza is what I’ve been noticing in some other things I’ve been reading as well, a lament in a way over that contrast between cities and city life with nature, open, vast green spaces, whether mountains or fields, trees, or water-side places, where not only children but adults too can feel calm, peaceful, happy, and which also gives them a chance to be themselves, each in their own way. I remembered something I read in Virginia Wolf’s The Common Reader (1925) where discussing Chaucer, she writes,
Chaucer was helped to this to some extent by the time of his birth; and in addition he had another advantage over the moderns which will never come the way of English poets again. England was an unspoilt country. His eyes rested on a virgin land, all unbroken grass and wood except for the small towns and an occasional castle in the building. No villa roofs peered through Kentish tree-tops; no factory chimney smoked on the hill-side.
Also in Bookworm (2018), which I recently read (review on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/review-bookworm/), the author Lucy Mangan describing her childhood reading, writes of various books set in the countryside (which living in London she wasn’t familiar with) and at one point (I was a little lazy here and didn’t look this up) writes something to the effect that at least there was a countryside when she was a child, and children now wouldn’t have a chance to really know the places these books take us to. But then at least we have these books to take us to those places, while it isn’t the same as being there, we can at least step into these pages and experience it second-hand (like Longfellow’s traveller by the fireside).
But looking at such similar lines of thought at different periods of time made me wonder (as other situations and contexts have too), it is really the same problems, the same issues that people face, worry about, irrespective of time, only the degree perhaps changes.