Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 1, 2013

On Poetry: Holidays time for children's poems

Local columnist

---- — Holiday time. Time for a poem for the kids.

What’s to say about this one except that it makes me smile? It’s the playing with language that we respond to, even if we don’t realize it at first. Milne needs to rhyme with “too,” so it’s “snew!” And the same with “friz” and “his.”

I like how the first stanza is made of short lines, and the second really gets into it and begins to elaborate—the way a kid would—on the idea, to imagine what it would really be like to be fur-lined. It would be like that, all fur, even the big fur bed.

Why are we so charmed by rhyme? From the beginning of human communication, we’ve loved hearing ourselves make sounds, and when the sounds chime off each other, it’s like dancing. It’s music.

We can memorize it because one sound suggests to us the next one. It’s why the Pilgrims rewrote the Psalms into The Bay Psalm Book—rhyming, so children could learn them. We also have the pleasure of things being completed. Like a box opening and shutting, over and over.

Contrary to what many people think, the first so-called poems were not rhymed like this. (We call these “end-rhymes” because the rhymes plunk themselves down hard at the end of lines.)

Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” weren’t rhymed. Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Oddessy” didn’t rhyme. Biblical poetry wasn’t rhymed. But all of these rely on some kind of rhythmical repetition, something that feels incantatory. Something that calls attention, just as this little poem does, to the language itself.

Modern poems, so many of them, seem so flat in comparison. They’re using language in different ways to call attention to itself. Not better or worse, just different.

Why would we want to call attention to the language itself? Because in order to dance, or sing, we have to let go of our obsession with “getting somewhere.” We have to just enjoy ourselves. Poems, even the modern, complicated ones, are determined to get us to stop for a few minutes, stay in one spot, to slow down a little, for heaven’s sake. Watch the snow fall, and imagine what it would be like to be wrapped all in fur.


Furry Bear If I were a bear, And a big bear too, I shouldn't much care If it froze or snew; I shouldn't much mind If it snowed or friz-- I'd be all fur-lined With a coat like his! For I'd have fur boots and a brown fur wrap, And brown fur knickers and a big fur cap. I'd have a fur muffle-ruff to cover my jaws, And brown fur mittens on my big brown paws. With a big brown furry-down up to my head, I'd sleep all the winter in a big fur bed. --A. A. Milne (from The Complete Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh, Curtis Brown Limited, London.)