Yesterday I bought several poetry collections for children. More on all of them in the days to come, but today I want to talk about The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems, edited by Donald Hall. The book was put out in 1999 by Oxford University Press, and recently they added shiny gold-foil stickers to the cover that say "Edited by the 2006-2007 POET LAUREATE".
Hall's point in assembling this particular collection was to pull poems written for children over the past few centuries "back into light." Hall believes that "[p]oetry for our children began with Native American cradle songs, moved on to a rhymed alphabet, bloomed in the 19th century with 'A Visit from St. Nicholas,' expanded in the 20th, and continues with vigor into the 21st."
I must say, I applaud many of his choices. The three Native American cradle songs that start the book are each absolutely gorgeous; if forced to select one as my favorite of the group, I'd have to go with "She Will Gather Roses", which begins "This little girl/only born to/gather wild roses." Next, as indicated by Hall's introduction, comes a "New England Primer Alphabet", including memorable lines such as "the idle Fool/is whipped at school." Then we've got the Clement C. Moore poem and a myriad of verse. Some of the poets I hadn't heard of, like Eliza Lee Follen, even though I of course knew her poem, "The Three Little Kittens." Some of the poems I didn't know, even if I'd heard of the poet. And, of course, sometimes I'd never heard of the poet or the poem, as was the case with Palmer Cox, who wrote both "The Lazy Pussy" and "The Mouses's Lullaby", and with Laura E. Richards, who wrote "Antonio" and "Eletelephony".
The poems quickly progress through time to the 20th century, where selections include poems from Frost, Sandburg, T.S. Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Cummings, Nash, Roethke and more. Including three poems from Langston Hughes: "Mother to Son", "Hope", and "April Rain Song," which caught my eye for more reasons than its mention of the months. A confession: I don't know all that much Hughes' poetry, something I must work to remedy, since what I do know, I love. The poem I'm sharing today, "April Rain Song", begins in a way that echoes the priestly blessing found in the book of Numbers 6:24-26: "The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."
April Rain Song
Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night --
And I love the rain.
Oh how I adore that very last line, the one that breaks the form, the rule of threes that he's established. The one that takes the poem from general to specific, from a benediction to a description to a personal experience. And I love this poem.