By JanetMayes

Project 365 day 118: poems from childhood

I need to choose two poems which inspired me when I was growing up, for the last meeting of a little poetry reading group, so I've been looking back through some of the poetry books which have been part of my life since childhood. The big anthology, the Golden Treasury of Poetry, was my most treasured book for many years: I chose it for myself, with my Christmas book token and money, when I was about nine, largely thanks to an inspirational primary school teacher who brought together poetry, nature walks and art and started me on the personal anthology which I continued into adulthood. It contains all manner of things, many of which would not generally be considered children's poems. The ink stained, tatty copy of the Dragon Book of verse and the blue volume of Matthew Arnold were my mother's 1940s grammar school books, and contain some of the long, narrative poems she used to read or recite to try to soothe me back to sleep when I woke from nightmares: Lochinvar, How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix, the story of bold Horatius keeping the bridge ("How can man die better than facing fearful odds / For the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods?"), The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna (Mum's gloomy favourite!) and Matthew Arnold's Forsaken Merman, which I sought out on the bookshelves and read over and over. When I was a little older, I also discovered his wonderful Dover Beach. The leather bound Longfellow, printed in a minuscule font size in two columns on wafer-thin paper, is part of a set inherited from my father's Great Aunt Alice. I was curious about her because she had been a spinster and a teacher, late in the nineteenth century I guess, but I know little more. I turned to it when we learned about what we then called Red Indians at primary school, and loved the sounds, rhythms and exotic names of the extracts from Hiawatha. Finally, the seventies paperback volume of Yeats was one of the first "grown up" poetry books I bought for myself at about sixteen, possibly prompted by poems in my big anthology. 

I won't be sharing the rhythmic, bellicose narratives at my Quaker poetry group, though I have enjoyed reminding myself of them. My first choice will be Gerard Manley Hopkins' Pied Beauty, whose sounds and images leapt from the anthology when I first read it and have stayed with me for nearly five decades; the second will probably be Yeats' magical, resonant Song of Wandering Aengus.

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