Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

August 4, 2013

On Poetry: Rhyme, rhythm not so simple after all

In the living room of our cottage there are two reddish-orange wooden boxes, one with silver art deco design, both as old as any of us can remember. They’re filled with toys my father and his brother and sister played with, plus a few my developmentally disabled brother played with, long beyond his years—two large steel trucks, a steel airplane (or “aeroplane” back then) with one wheel missing, a raised wooden pound-a-peg bench with hammer, and several pull toys, among other things.

The joy of the pull toys is that they do something, they bob or clack or ring bells. For a child, there’s a sense of power, of making something happen. Or was. These days the smallest kid can make an entire world appear on a screen with one touch. Back then, the pleasure was in the mechanical.

The grandchildren are too old for these toys, but they drag them out anyway because that’s part of the ritual, seeing what’s there all over again each summer. They’re battered but probably valuable. We don’t care — they’re to play with.

The poem by A.E. Stallings celebrates the pull-toy. This particular one nods its head and wags its tail as it’s pulled. It gets abused, as toys do, falling over as it’s being pulled, being abandoned as the child grows. But then, there’s always the hope of some other child picking up where last one left off.

The pleasure of this poem is partly in its simple rhyming. It’s a song In your head — the words “lackety-clack” and “glanced back” chiming against each other so that you almost become a child again as you listen.

And it’s not just the rhyme. If you listen carefully, you can hear that the lines go like this: four beats, then three, then four, then three. This is a classic ballad stanza, the same rhythm as hymns, as nursery rhymes (“Jack and Jill went up the hill/ to fetch a pail of water”). Many poets have used this form for poems that want to tell a simple story, or to suggest a nursery-rhyme.

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