Posted January 26, 2007on:
Fate has seen fit to cheer clear my moody spirits. I fell upon a copy of A. A. Milne’s poetry. The World of Christopher Robin contains two original collections: When We Were Young and Now We Are Six. I’d forgotten that I had even read any of Milne’s poems when I was younger until words happily spilled from my mouth at sightings of Brownie and Hoppity.
On reading When We Were Young what first struck me was Milne’s perfect and clever encapsulation of children’s general frankness, absurdity and pleasure in imagined stories of every kind. I loved Disobedience, in which the child’s mother disobeys his stern warning against wandering off into town without him there to guide her. In exasperation he searches for her, knowing full well she’s walking aimlessly about the town, helpless. After finding her he gives her a good scolding. The irregular form of the poem, the two words in each line, the repetition of names, the typography in the last stanza are a bit unusual for a children’s poem. At least from what I’ve read. It’s a pity I don’t have a scanner so that you may view E.H. Shepard’s illustrations arranged alongside parts of the poem: he perfectly realising the scenes, adding his own whimsy and taking an equal share in the narrative.
I just can’t get over how witty and clever most of them are. I’d like to say that it reminds me a good deal of Ogden Nash but must root around for the copy of his poems to more properly clarify the association.
What pulls at me just as strongly is his glorious use of rhythm. It inspires you to sound the words out loud, to create melodies, to even move your body in rhythm to the words that help to create the images he desires in your mind. In the middle of the poem he’ll change directions, taking unpredictable turns that only enhance the overall experience.
If I had a ship,
I’d sail my ship,
I’d sail my ship
Through Eastern seas;
Down to a beach where the slow waves thunder–
The green curls over and the white falls under–
Boom! Boom! Boom!
On the sun-bright sand.
Then I’d leave my ship and I’d land,
And climb the steep white sand,
And climb to the trees,
The six dark trees,
The coco-nut trees on the cliff’s green crown–
Hands and knees
To the coco-nut trees,
Face to the cliff as the stones patter down,
Up, up, up, staggering, stumbling,
Round the corner where the rock is crumbling,
Round this shoulder,
Over this boulder,
Up to the top where the six trees stand….
And there would I rest, and lie,
My chin in my hands, and gaze
At the dazzle of sand below,
And the green waves curling slow,
And the grey-blue distant haze
Where the sea goes up to the sky….
And I’d say to myself as I looked so lazily down at the sea:
“There’s nobody else in the world, and the world was made