Squares, Bears, and Some Gentle Fun #Poetry #AAMilne

Bears–cute teddy bears to scary grizzlies–often make an appearance in children’s stories–from Goldilocks who came upon the three bears’ house in the forest (subject of a topsy turvy version by Roald Dahl) to Baloo in the Jungle Book, to Winnie-the-Pooh, and their relationship with ‘literary children’ has been described as rather ‘ambivalent’.* Some are friendly like Pooh and Baloo, but others well kept at a distance. One such instance, where bears’ ‘scary’ image is relied on is A.A. Milne’s poem, ‘Lines and Squares’, which ‘tries to make a poetic game map onto a child’s game, and vice versa’.* The poem first appeared in his collection When We Were Young, published in 1924, and illustrated (or rather, ‘decorated’) by E.H. Shepard. This book also has another famous poem ‘Teddy Bear’, said to be the first appearance of his most famous creation, Winnie-the-Pooh.

In the poem, Milne plays with the children’s game of walking in squares without stepping on the lines. As one does in the game of hopscotch, where one must jump through the shapes, and recover the stone or other object thrown inside without, among other things, stepping on a line, in which case you end up losing your turn.

Hopscotch

But in Milne’s poem, stepping on a line or across a square doesn’t simply put you ‘out’ of the game, for here, at the edges of the squares, lurk ‘masses of bears’ lying in wait ‘all ready to eat’, who else but ‘the sillies who tread on the lines of the street’. But our narrator (I don’t think it is Christopher Robin in Shepard’s illustration), knows better and tells the bears, ‘Just see how I’m walking in all the squares’. The bears here are cunning, and pretend that all they’re doing is ‘looking for a friend’, and don’t care in the least whether you step on a line or don’t walk within a square. But of course, they’re only growling to each other, of which of them will get him when he steps on a line. Our narrator isn’t fooled though, unlike the ‘sillies’ who might believe what the creatures say, and tells the bears, that they can ‘just watch [him] walking in all the squares’!

This is a sweet little poem, reminding one of the games one played as children, but of course adding a gentle touch of fun (well, may not that gentle since it does involve the possibility of getting eaten by bears). A lovely little read!

Have you read this one before? What did you think of it? Looking forward to your thoughts!

  • *James Williams, ‘Children’s Poetry at Play’, in Katherine Wakeley-Mulroney and Louise Joy (eds), The Aesthetics of Children’s Poetry: A Study of Children’s verse in English (Routeledge, 2018).
  • When We Were Young, Wikipedia (here)
  • The Three Bears Image via Wikimedia Commons (here)
  • Hopscotch Image via Wikimedia Commons (here)
  • Full poem here

Circle of Life #Poetry #Kipling

Not quite talking about the song from the Lion King, but the idea in that story, of life coming full circle, starting with the birth of one lion king (prince?) Simba, and coming to a close with another–his cub–and knowing that whatever events occur in between–happy or sad, easy or hard–the circle will keep recurring–birth and death, the new always replacing the old. Life will always thus go on (in some form or other). This is the idea that comes across, I think, in Rudyard Kipling’s short poem, ‘Cities and Thrones and Powers’, which appeared in his book Puck of Pook’s Hill, accompanying one of the stories.

Boy with Crown
Source: Pexels

Looking at it from the perspective of time, Kipling compares Cities, Thrones, and Powers to flowers that die each day, for from time’s eye, this is how they appear–as insignificant, or perhaps, as significant–since for everlasting time, the space they occupy is as small. But like flowers that bloom and die each days, cities, thrones, and power too go through cycles, of different durations perhaps, but come to an end they do, only for new ones to rise again. As he puts it,

But, as new buds put forth
  To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth
  The Cities rise again.
Daffodils
Image source: Pexels

But as Kipling goes on to write, while birth and death, a beginning and an end is the natural course for everyone, everything even–living, or man-made–solace lies in the fact that for them, that short existence they have is perpetual. The daffodil, as he says it approaches her seven-day life boldly, unaware of what has become of her predecessors, considering the time spared her as perpetual:

But with bold countenance,
  And knowledge small,
Esteems her seven days' continuance,
  To be perpetual.

That is the kindness that time shows everyone–time that is perpetual, that is everlasting, makes us in a sense as blind, believe in the myth of our life being everlasting, and as bold as that little daffodil who has but seven days, so that we too think that life is perpetual, and can live forever (even when we humans know that there is an end, we do too), and approach life with as much boldness and try to life it as fully. (After all, there wouldn’t really be ‘life’ otherwise, would there?) For time of course, these cycles continue forever, and each–whether the seven-day life of a daffodil, or many hundred years of a city or power–is but the blink of an eye.

But I am not quite sure what to make of the last stanza, the last couple of lines, particularly:

So Time that is o'er-kind
  To all that be,
Ordains us e'en as blind,
  As bold as she:
That in our very death,
  And  burial sure,
Shadow to shadow, well persuaded, saith,
  "See how our works endure!"

Does Kipling mean that time’s works are enduring, or that we (blind in a sense to the eventuality of our lives) consider our works (our cities, thrones, and powers, among them) as ever enduring?

What do you make of these last lines? Have you read this poem before? How do you like it, it’s message? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Find the full poem here

Find my previous posts on some of Kipling’s other poems here and here

The Grass is always Greener… #Poetry #FrancesCornford

From Danish Fairy and Folk Tales
via Wikimedia commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Danish_fairy_and_folk_tales_-_a_collection_of_popular_stories_and_fairy_tales_(1899)_(14741908066).jpg

‘The Princess and the Gypsies’ by Frances Cornford tells of a conversation between a princess and some gypsies, narrated in the ‘voice’ of the Princess. One May morning, the Princess decides to lay down her crown ‘And live no more like a queen‘, and so, still dressed in her silken gown she steps down the ‘golden steps‘ of her palace and into the open wood. Here she meets some gypsies. As she begins to speak to them, we learn that the princess is unsatisfied with her ‘crown and state‘, and her life in the palace where her ‘old and grey‘ councillors ‘sit in narrow chairs‘, at all times perhaps in stifling surroundings away from nature and the open sky. She longs to join the gypsies for they ‘can hear the birds sing clear‘, and their ‘hearts are as light‘ as the birds’.

The gypsies, while not unwilling to take her along, enlighten her about the realities, that is to say, the hardships of their lives, which may appear attractive but are certainly not easy even if they may be ‘free’. And so they tell her,

If you would come long with us,

Then you must count the cost

Life away from the comforts of the palace is far from easy; the weather, the food, even the path that one has literally to walk on, all are often hard even if they also bring some pleasure. In the springtime, one may be treated to birdsong but in the winter, ‘comes the frost‘. In food too, she must compromise for there won’t be the ‘sugary cakes’ that please but barley-bread that is ‘bitter to taste‘. And when she has to wash in the palace, she has not only basins of gold but water that is warm while the gypsies must make do with streams that might ‘have silvery foam‘ but are cold! The princess is served by her ladies ‘all the day‘ but the gypsies must go barefoot.

So if she chooses to join them, to eat barley bread that is bitter, and wash in streams that are cold, her heart may be ‘as free as birds in the tree‘, but her feet will be cut by stones. Not only that, her silken gown will be spoiled by mud, and dogs in farms will bark when she with the gypsies will pass by.

Encampment of Gypsies by Van Gogh
via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Encampment_of_Gypsies_with_Caravans.jpg

Life every day is hard for the gypsies, and the end when it comes, is not much better for as they tell the princess,

‘And you will die in a ditch’

Their life may have its attractions, not only birdsong and the open air but hearts that are ‘deep and gay‘ and ‘wise and rich‘ but all of that comes at a price as they explain to the princess. The princess, her head heavy, realises that this life although she may well praise it is not for her and all she can do is to turn back and return to her palace. She may want the freedom that comes with it, but the price is too heavy a one to pay. So giving her ruby rings and chain to the gypsies, she heads back up the stairs, her heart (and dreams) broken, while the gypsies laugh.

The poem through the story of the princess and the gypsies tells us of a situation that almost every person must face or dreams of in one way or another–many dream of lives different from their own–free of the frustrations, problems, that they face–but that other life be it a gypsy one or any other has its own problems, and perhaps not the comforts that one is used to. The grass seems greener but is perhaps only a different kind of green with its own set of problems and hardships.

Reading this poem reminded me of a Jeffrey Archer short story called ‘The Grass is always Greener…’ which starting with a tramp who lives outside a bank takes us through his life, and the lives of various employees in the bank including its chairman, each of whom envy the life of the next ‘higher’ person in the hierarchy thinking, if only they had what that person had, life wouldn’t be so bad. But as we find, even though each one may have something that the other doesn’t, their life isn’t better or rosier because of it–they always have their own problems. And when we get to the story of the chairman, well, that would be a spoiler.

The poem is supposed to be based on an older ballad according to the book I read it in but it doesn’t mention which one. (Let me know if you do).

The poet, Frances Crofts Cornford, was a granddaughter of Charles Darwin (daughter of his son Francis Darwin and Ellen Wordsworth Crofts). She wrote several books of verse. The best known (according to wikipedia; as also the Encyclopaedia Britannica which says this is unfair) is her sad/comic poem ‘To a Fat Lady Seen from a Train’ (1910) to which G.K. Chesterton wrote ‘The Fat Lady Answers’ in response. As both her father and her husband were named Francis, she was known to her family as FCD before marriage and as FCC after.

Have you read this one before? What did you think of it? There are some things that may not be all PC (references to colour and such) but still the point of it makes sense irrespective of setting. Looking forward to your thoughts!

Find the full poem here and info on Frances Cornford here. I’ve taken all the info from wikipedia as always.

Three Little Pigs–with a Twist! #RoaldDahl #Poetry #Humour #DarkHumour

The Pig Carrying the Straw
Source: Leonard Leslie Brooke [Public domain] via wikimedia commons

The Three Little Pigs is of course a tale familiar to us all–the story of …er… three little pigs who go out into the wide world, in search of ‘their fortune’, and end up building houses for themselves, each with different material–straw, sticks, and brick. But two of the houses get blown down by the wolf, while the third pig manages to build a strong enough house to withstand the wolf’s strength (breath?). In some versions, the first two pigs are eaten by the wolf while in others, they escape and hide in the brick house with their brother, all three saved in the process. The story has appeared in verse form as well as prose. There are also several retellings (as I learnt from good old wikipedia (here)), including a jazz version dating back to 1953 by Al ‘Jazzbo’ Collins (here), and a parody in 1989; even a ‘reverse’ version in a book in 1992, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig where it is the wolves who build houses and the pig who does the blowing down.

The Pigs Being Sent Out into the World by Their Mother
Leonard Leslie Brooke (1862-1940) [Public domain]
via wikimedia commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Three_little_pigs_and_mother_sow_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_15661.jpg

But the version I’m writing about today, is one I came across by chance, and fairly recently too, is one in verse by Roald Dahl. And being by Dahl, the story of the pigs isn’t just the usual story we know (any of the versions), but has his own little twist at the end, very much on the lines of ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ from the Alice books (at least that was what I was reminded of when reading it). [Just a small warning: This post is not spoiler-free.] This version appeared in Revolting Rhymes in 1982, which features six poems, each a parody of a fairy tale.

Dahl’s version begins with praise of pigs in general, as creatures that are ‘noble…clever…courteous‘ (Emsworth in disguise?). But as he says,

'However,
Now and then, to break this rule,
One meets a pig who is a fool.'

Something like the first of our three little pigs who made his house out of straw. Dahl’s version retains the words of the version I originally heard/read (can’t remember which) where the wolf says

'Little pig, little pig, let me come in!'
'No, no, by the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin!'
'Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in!'
The Wolf and the Pig with the Straw House
Leonard Leslie Brooke (1862-1940) [Public domain]
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f5/Three_little_pigs_1904_straw_house.tif

And of course, the wolf does just that. But in this version, the poor little pig does not escape and ends up as the wolf’s meal, well, part of it, for even though the wolf feels bloated, he isn’t quite satisfied, moving along till he finds to his surprise another little house for pigs, this time, one made of twigs. Two little pigs now in his tummy, it is bulging, yet he ‘adore[s] indulging‘. And

So creeping quietly as a mouse,
The Wolf approached another house,
A house which also had inside
A little piggy trying to hide.
The Wolf Trying to Enter Through the Chimney in the original version of the story
Leonard Leslie Brooke via wikimedia commons
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/83/Three_little_pigs%2C_Img013.jpg

But this house was a different challenge altogether, for while the wolf blew and blew, the house stayed ‘as good as new‘. Incidentally, the poem doesn’t actually mention that this one was made of bricks, but of course, we know that already! But here, the wolf also doesn’t try to make his way down the chimney as he does in some versions, where he ends up getting killed in the process for the pigs light a fire underneath. But he doesn’t give up either. This wolf here is rather ‘modern’ , and decides instead to go and fetch some dynamite. The piggie immediately picks up his telephone (yes, he has one of those) and calls for help–who else, but Little Red Riding Hood, who has had experience dealing with wolves before. Red Riding Hood is busy washing her hair at the moment, but promises to come when it is dry.

Little Red Riding Hood (not from Dahl’s version, of course)
via wikimedia commons
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e9/Little_Red_Riding_Hood_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19993.jpg

The wolf is standing with ‘eyes ablaze‘, and sharp teeth ‘yellowish, like mayonnaise‘, spit ‘dripping from his jaw‘. Miss Riding Hood has arrived as promised and in a flick of her eyelids, draws a pistol and fires a shot, hitting once more ‘the vital spot‘. The wolf is dead, and the pig, peeping through the window yells, ‘Well done, Miss Riding Hood‘.

So you would think ends our little story, but that isn’t quite it, for as Dahl tells us (and the poor piglet), that ‘Young Ladies from the Upper Crust‘ aren’t to be trusted, so now when we see Miss Riding Hood, one finds that she

Not only has two wolfskin coats,
But when she goes from place to place,
She has a PIGSKIN TRAVELING CASE.

So the poor piggie in this version ends up as unlucky as his brothers, not in the wolf’s stomach but unfortunately, most likely in Miss Riding Hood’s, with his skin turned into her travelling case!

And so ends our three little pigs’ tale, with Dahl’s little twist, which I definitely didn’t see coming. And one I won’t forget easily either. As I wrote earlier, it reminded me a little of the ‘Walrus and the Carpenter’, where the Walrus and the Carpenter take the oysters for a walk to give them a treat, but of course, we know where the poor oysters end up, though the Walrus does shed a few tears, while his has his meal. Miss Riding Hood too, somewhat similarly is all eager to help the pig, but at the end… Dark it may be but it was still an enjoyable version, though one feels rather sorry for the poor third pig.

Have you read this version before? What did you think of it? Any other ‘Three Little Pigs’ stories, adaptations, versions that you’ve read, heard, or seen and enjoyed? Which ones? Or do you simply prefer the ‘original’ tale? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Find the full poem here and here. It’s also on Youtube here (on a channel called Blandings Castle 🙂 )

A detailed analysis of the poem, including on rhyme and syntax, use of capitals, word-usage and such is here.

I have previously written on another Dahl poem, The Ant-Eater (here)

Shelf Control #48: Passion by Jude Morgan #HistoricalFiction #Poetry

Wednesday, June 12–Shelf Control time again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it–when and where you got it, what makes you want to read it, and such. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

This month, as I mentioned last week also, I don’t have a specific reading theme and am only catching up with books I have left over from my TBRs for the past couple of months. So for Shelf Control, too I am simply picking random books to feature from my TBR shelf. This week’s pick as you can see from the cover is Passion (2004) by Jude Morgan.

Images: Shelley, Keats, and Byron.

Historical fiction once again, this one is set in the years of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, and around the lives of three romantic poets–Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Keats. The three come in to prominence, becoming famous or infamous for their lives as much as for their works. This book explores their stories through the stories of four women in their lives–the gifted Mary Shelley, aristocratic Lady Caroline Lamb, quiet Fanny Brawne, and Augusta Leigh–who themselves flout many conventions in loving them. Told from different perspectives, the book explores the intense tempestuous lives of these men and women, and at 663 pages (Review books 2004) is quite the tome.

Images: (clockwise) Mary Shelley, Caroline Lamb, Fanny Brawne, and Augusta Leigh

Jude Morgan was born and brought up in Peterborough on the edge of the Fens, and studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Among his books are The Secret Life of William Shakespeare (2014), The King’s Touch (2003) focusing on Charles II, and Symphony (2007) about composer Hector Belioz.

Last year, I was reading The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice, a book set in 1950s England (which reminded me very much of I Capture the Castle, and which I very much enjoyed; review here). Anyway, at the back of the book was a description of Passion, a book I’d not heard of before but reading the blurb I knew this was one I wanted to read. So I looked it up online and ordered a copy (second hand) as soon as it showed up.

Having just read a bio of the Shelleys in graphic novel form (reviews here and here), and enjoyed poems and other writings by Shelley, Keats, and Byron, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, at different times, this is of course a book I am very much looking forward to reading. Once again, I would love to see how the author has recreated the time at Villa Diodati where Frankenstein was created. I have never read anything by Morgan before nor any serious account of these three poets’ lives, other than bits and pieces here and there, so this would also be a chance for me to get a picture of their lives.

Villa Diodati
via wikimedia commons

Have you read this book before or anything else by this author? How did you like it? If you haven’t, would you want to read it? Any favourite poems or writings of Keats, Byron, and/or Shelley? Looking forward to your thoughts!

The descriptions of the book are from Goodreads and the blurb at the back of the book; of Morgan from Goodreads, and all images are from wikimedia commons.

Breakfast Woes #poetry #AAMilne

Marmalade
Image source: Kate [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

How do you like your toast at breakfast? Hot, buttered “cut thick , very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey from a honeycomb“, like Toad of Toad Hall, or with honey and condensed milk (but not the bread) like Winnie the Pooh? Or slathered thick with marmalade, may be?

The King in A.A. Milne’s poem, “The King’s Breakfast”, likes the first option, in fact simply must have it! In this fun and sweet children’s poem, the King makes a simple request to his Queen, who passes it on to the Dairymaid:

“Could we have some butter for

The Royal slide of bread?”

The Dairymaid says “Certainly,” and that she’ll go and tell the cow “Before she goes to bed.” So, off she goes to the Alderney to remind her not to forget, that little bit of butter for “The Royal slice of bread“. But the Alderney is sleepy, and perhaps because of it sends a message to His Majesty that

Many people nowadays

Like marmadale

instead.

The chain of conversation proceeding in reverse, the Dairymaid exclaims “Fancy!,” heads back to the Queen, and though a little embarrassed, lets her know that Marmalade can be quite tasty, “if its very Thickly spread“. But when the Queen tells this to the poor King, he is understandably upset. He sobs that he is by no means a fussy man, but he does want a little bit of butter for his bread! And upset as he is, he gets back into bed. The Queen consoles her poor husband, “There there,” and once again goes to the Dairymaid, who in turn returns to the Alderney’s shed. This time the cow is more obliging, and says that she didn’t really mean it. And with that, she gives “milk for his porringer, And butter for his bread.”

His request fulfilled, the King is a new man, bouncing right out of bed. Sliding down the banister, he tells us once again, how no one can really call him a fussy man, but he does “like a little bit of butter to [his] bread!

The full poem, with illustrations (decorations) by E.H. Shepard
Source: http://images.onlinegalleries.com/gfx/252574.jpg

This is such a cute poem, and so much fun to read! I loved reading this as a child and still do! But fun elements apart, it does make one think of perfect breakfasts, buttered toast and hot tea or coffee, preserves–all things comfort. Breakfast is pretty much how one starts one’s day, and if that is perfect, the rest of the day will be too! Don’t you think? Winnie the Pooh, Milne’s most famous creation certainly thinks breakfast an exciting part of his day, the very first thing he thinks of:

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”

But when it comes to hot buttered toast specifically, Kenneth Grahame, I think, puts it beautifully:

“The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleeping canaries.”

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in The Willows (1908)

Have you read this poem before? How do you like it? What does your breakfast mean to you? Are you excited about it like dear old Pooh, or does it give you a few moments of peace and comfort in your otherwise busy day? Looking forward to your thoughts!

The font in the picture is a little too tiny. Find the full poem here: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-king-s-breakfast/

Stationary Travellers #poetry #Longfellow #books

Source: Pexels

We travel–to explore the world, experience new places, sounds, smells, cultures, to see the wonders this world has to offer. We travel for adventure, for excitement, for fun, even relaxation. Travel means all this and more. It means to get up and get going, but for us as readers, we can ‘travel’ even without that. Through the books on our shelves, we can have almost all the same experiences, see new sights through the authors’ eyes (and in our minds), learn about new cultures (perhaps even more closely and in more detail than in person), visit magical and fantastical places (Narnia or the lands up in the Faraway Tree) that we never can in real life, and have exciting adventures with the characters we are travelling with!

Travelling!
Image source: Pexels

So each time we open a book, we too travel, enter new worlds, real or imaginary. And this we can do from our comfortable reading nooks. This is just the kind of travel that H.W. Longfellow writes about in ‘Travels by the Fireside’.

Image source: Pexels

In it, he writes of rainy days, of ‘ceaseless rain…falling fast‘ which ‘drives [him] in upon himself’–away from the grey, dreary, and wet atmosphere outside to the cosy comfort of ‘fireside gleams‘, and more importantly, to the ‘pleasant books that crowd [his] shelf; And still more pleasant dreams.’

Image source: Pexels

That is certainly where a cold rainy day or dreary winter evening drives us readers, with a favourite book, sipping some hot coffee/tea, losing ourselves in the worlds that they open up for us! Longfellow reads too of tales sung by bards, ‘of lands beyond the sea‘, and these songs, as he is writing in his later years, bring back to him memories of his youth, when perhaps he went on adventures of his own, the tales he reads of making him relive his own memories. [The songs of the bards and journeys on ‘sea and land’ that he refers to incidentally made me think very much of Odysseus’ adventures, though Longfellow wasn’t really speaking of any specific stories.]

Roman Mossaic depicting Odysseus
Source: Giorcesderivative work: Habib M’henni [Public domain]

His travels through ‘others eyes’ are far more comfortable than real-life adventures for he no longer fears ‘the dust and the heat‘, or ‘feel[s] fatigue‘, nor does he need to ‘toil through various climes‘. He ‘journey[s] with another’s feet‘, and ‘turn[s] the world around in [his] hand‘, through these songs of the bards as he travels over ‘many a lengthening league‘ and ‘learn[s] whatever lies; Beneath each changing zone‘. In fact, he sees ‘when looking with their eyes; better than with [his] own.’

Do you like travelling? Actual travels or do you prefer to like Longfellow (and me 😛 ) travel comfortably in your armchairs? Have you read this poem before? How did you like it?

Find the full poem here.

How Jack Began to View the World

By Arthur Rackam via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve been seeing plenty of re-tellings lately, also books that explore the stories of what happens to characters from stories after we’ve “left” them–Alice some years later, for instance (like the new Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass movies or Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay, which I have waiting on my NetGalley pile). This post is about one of the later category that is, what happens to a character from a story when he/she has returned from his/her adventure and settled down to a “normal” life. But it isn’t a book, but a poem–‘Stalky Jack’ by William Brighty Rands.

William Brighty Rands (1823-1882) was a writer and a major author of nursery rhymes of the Victorian era, who also worked as a reporter in the House of Commons. Labelled the “Laurete of the Nursery”, he wrote under the pseudonyms Henry Holbeach and Mathew Browne. Find a bio here.

The author: Images from the Victorian Web (here) and AllPoetry.com (here).

Anyway, back to the actual poem now. The poem is about Jack, the boy, “who took long walks; Who lived on beans and ate the stalks“. When we hear of Jack here, he has been a year and a day in the Giants’ Country, where he was lost, but has now returned. But ever since that incident, Jack has no longer been the same but is a much altered boy, and has undergone “A change in notions of extent!

Jack no longer understands things “normal” sized but views them as a giant would. He wants to enter at the second floor, wants a bowl of soup “as large as a hoop”, and thinks a sirloin no more than “a couple of bites”. Not only that, humans themselves to him are “minikin mites”.

As a result he has been bought magnifying glasses, and only since he put them on, has the world for him “come to its proper size”. All the boys. however, point to him, calling him Stalky Jack, and no girl would ever marry him, since she wouldn’t want to be thought three times her proper height. (Didn’t he marry a princess, though?)

That as the author points out to us, is the consequence of “taking extravagant walks; And living on beans and eating the stalks“.

This is such a cute and fun poem–it certainly brought a smile to my face. I honestly don’t think I would have thought of how perceptions (of size) would change if one were exposed to a world of such different proportions. I don’t remember my Gulliver all that well, though I know there were chapters between his different voyages. Did his own world, the “normal” world seem too big or too small (not as things should be) when he returned from Lilliput or Brobdingnag?


Gulliver and the King of Brobdingnag, James Gillray [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

I do remember that when he returns from the land of the horse-people, the Houyhnhnms, he is unable to adjust to life with his own kind, and lives as much away from them as he can.


Gulliver with the Houthnhnms, Grandville [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Exposure to different people, cultures, places does open up new ideas, bring out in us new perceptions of what might be good or right, or make us see our own world with new eyes. Whether we can readjust, or like Gulliver shun those of our kind since we’ve seen better, or need goggles like Jack to make the world seem normal again, adventures, an understanding of different places/cultures do change us in one way or other which Stalky Jack shows us in a fun and enjoyable way.

And while I may have taken off on a tangent in this post, this is a light-hearted poem to read for a laugh or at least a smile. Find the full poem on the Victorian Web here.

Christmas for Everyone

Merry Christmas to everyone!!!

I haven’t written a poetry-based post for a bit, and had this one in mind for a while, which is rather “perfect” for the day and the season. I especially love the sentiment that it conveys. The poem is “Eddi’s Service” by Rudyard Kipling and appears in his book Rewards and Fairies (1910), which is the sequel to Puck of Pook’s Hill. It is set in A.D. 687.

The poem is about “Eddi, priest of St Wilfrid“, in a chapel at Manhood’s End. It is Christmas eve, and Eddi organises a midnight service for all that care to attend. But it is stormy night, and no one appears for the mass, although Eddi rings the bell. However, Eddi is neither disheartened not deterred.

“Wicked weather for walking,”

Said Eddi of Manhood End

But I must go on with the service

For such as care to attend.”

And so he begins the service by lighting the altar candles. Just as he is doing this, an old marsh donkey arrives, “Bold as a guest invited“, and as the storm gets stronger, water beating at the windows and splashing on the floor, another guest arrives, this time “a wet, yoke-weary bullock“.

Source: publicdomainvectors.org

Eddi observes his guests and thinks:

“How do I know what is greatest,

How do I know what is least?

This is my Father’s business,”

With this sentiment, Eddi proceeds with the service, narrating the story of Christ–of Bethlehem and the rider who rode to Jerusalem. His “audience” listens patiently, and does not stir, and only when the gale blows away, and day breaks, they leave the chapel together.

The Saxons, who have been keeping Christmas, but haven’t attended the mass, mock Eddi, but his belief still strong, he says,

“I dare not shut His chapel,

On such as care to attend.”

As I wrote already, I loved the sentiment that is in this poem, that all creatures great or small are the same in the creator’s eyes, or at least that we (humans) cannot know who “greater” or “lesser”, who is more “important” and who is not, and so our duty is to treat them all the same. At least, that’s a more general message that I feel we can take away from this, and one that is relevant to us as much today, since so many are rather callous when it comes to our fellow living creatures who are not the same as us. After all, they too are on this earth, and equally entitled to be here. If we (humans) consider ourselves so very superior to these “animals”, doesn’t it fall to us to make space for them, to let them live, rather than demonstrate our mastery over them or our disdain for them as being “lesser” creatures?

Eddi I think did get the point, and I hope more and more of us do too!

Find a little about the “real” St Wilfrid and his chapel, and Eddi here, and another post on this poem, here.

Have you read this poem before? What are your thoughts? Looking forward to hearing them!!!

Images: both from pexels.

Will Your Aunt be Eaten Up? #poetry #RoaldDahl #Humour

Yet another post ‘inspired’ by booktube, well not inspired really but on something I was reminded of because of a video I saw there. Before I start however, I’d just like to clarify that despite what the title might suggest, this is a post on something humorous, not spooky. So, a few days ago I was watching this chat/discussion video with three booktubers, and one of them said something about an aunt, and went on to talk about how the word is pronounced. As far as I was aware, the ‘aunt’ vs ‘ant’ difference was one of British vs American pronunciation, but one of them brought up the point that this may be a Canadian vs American thing (as well) (which I am not aware of so won’t comment on). [The video is here– it’s a long one but the point comes up at the start; around 2:39.]. Also, please note this post has spoilers so in case you are bothered by this, don’t read on.

 

Dirty Beasts.jpg

 

But that discussion reminded me of a poem that I like very much, and one that pokes fun at this very thing–the Ant-Eater by Roald Dahl, which appears in the book Dirty Beasts. The poem has some of the same themes as many Dahl stories, spoilt rotten brats who ultimately end up paying the price for being as they are.

The poem is about this very spoilt child called Roy, the only child of a wealthy American family, who lived somewhere near San Francisco Bay. Roy is

 

“A plump and unattractive boy –

Half-baked, half-witted and half-boiled,

But worst of all, most dreadfully spoiled.” (Dahl, The Ant-Eater)

 

Somewhat like Verruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (or even Harry Potter’s cousin Dudley)Roy is bought everything that he desires by his parents, whether toy cars and model airplanes or a colour TV, besides all sorts of animals, his house being filled with “sufficient toys; To thrill half a million boys” but he continues to demand more and more and more. Then comes a point at which he is hard pressed to think of something new that he doesn’t have, and after giving it some thought, he comes upon a really novel idea. He demands a peculiar pet, one no one else has–a “Giant Ant-Eater”.

 

Of course, as soon as his father hears of it, he begins to try and locate one, writing to all the zoos and such but finds they are simply not sold. So he begins looking elsewhere. Ultimately, he manages to find “an Indian gent” living “near Delhi, in a tent”, who has what they want but demands a price of 50,000 gold rupees (were there ever gold rupees, I am not sure).

 

Naturally, the price is paid and the ant-eater arrives, but demands food as soon as he reaches for no one has looked after him or fed him on the way. But heartless Roy is not one to be bothered by things such as this, and saying that he wont give him bread or meat sends him off to look for ants, for that’s what ant-eaters eat. The poor ant-eater hunts high and low, and finding not a single ant desperately asks Roy for food once again, only to be told “Go, find an ant!”.

 

One day, it so happens that Roy’s old aunt Dorothy, a lady of eighty-three arrives for a  visit. Roy is keen to show off his new pet, and takes her down and indicates the poor animal, all skin and bones. He calls the Ant-Eater to meet his ‘ant’ for:

 

(Some people in the U.S.A.

Have trouble with the words they say.

However hard they try, they can’t

Pronounce simple words like AUNT.

Instead of AUNT, they call it ANT,

Instead of CAN’T, they call it KANT.)

–Dahl, The Ant-Eater

 

The ant-eater pricks up his ears at this, and asks whether that is indeed an ant? And of course, goes on to do just what Roy had told him, since he has found his ‘ant’. This scares Roy who tries to run and hide, but, as the nephew of an ‘ant’…

 

This is such a fun poem, which I only ‘discovered’ when a friend mentioned it, and I loved it since I first read it. I love how Dahl pokes fun at the differences in accent in such an amusing way. Also, one can’t help smiling, in fact, laughing as the events unfold, cheering on the poor Ant-Eater, and fairly glad for what happened to Roy. One can’t help but feel just a little sorry for ‘Ant’ Dorothy, though, for it wasn’t really her fault that her nephew was quite so rotten.

 

This has turned out more a summary of the poem than a comment on it, but since I enjoy it so much, I’m going ahead and posting it anyway.

 

Have you read this poem before or any others in this collection (I haven’t read the others)?  Did you enjoy it/them as much as I did? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!