Poetry was something always in the background growing up. It wasn’t that my parents were particularly fond of it, or that I was private schooled with teachers that had us reciting Shakespeare at age 5. No, my upbringing was pretty normal – lots of running around, jumping in puddles, getting myself dirty (so I’ve been told). However, so many of the picture books I owned were not only brightly coloured, but in rhyming verse.
A particularly popular children’s book in New Zealand is Hairy Macleary from Donaldson’s Diary by Lynley Dodd. It sparked a series of wonderful books about Hairy Macleary and his friends, all in verse. The feel of the mete is just so natural to children – beating in time with the heart – ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum.
There are lots of poets whose best work catered to children, and who remain in the hearts of many as they grew into adults. I had copies of A. A. Milne’s (of Winnie the Pooh Fame) poetry collections. Spike Milligan, Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, T. S. Elliot and of course Dr Seus – some of the most recognisable poets wrote for children.
When I was about six, I remember having to memorise and recite The Owl and the Pussycat in front of the class. To this day, I can still recite it without a pause.
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.