June 22, 2007

Poetry Friday: A warning to children

This poem is wonderful to read aloud, to any children nearby or just to yourself.

Warning to Children

by Robert Graves (1895-1985)

Children, if you dare to think
Of the greatness, rareness, muchness,
Fewness of this precious only
Endless world in which you say
You live, you think of things like this:
Blocks of slate enclosing dappled
Red and green, enclosing tawny
Yellow nets, enclosing white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where a neat brown paper parcel
Tempts you to untie the string.
In the parcel a small island,
On the island a large tree,
On the tree a husky fruit.
Strip the husk and cut the rind off:
In the centre you will see
Blocks of slate enclosed by dappled
Red and green, enclosed by tawny
Yellow nets, enclosed by white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where the same brown paper parcel --
Children, leave the string untied!
For who dares undo the parcel
Finds himself at once inside it,
On the island, in the fruit,
Blocks of slate about his head,
Finds himself enclosed by dappled
Green and red, enclosed by yellow
Tawny nets, enclosed by black
And white acres of dominoes,
But the same brown paper parcel
Still untied upon his knee.
And, if he then should dare to think
Of the fewness, muchness, rareness,
Greatness of this endless only
Precious world in which he says
He lives - he then unties the string.

From our secondhand copy of the Oxford Book of Poetry for Children, compiled by Edward Blishen with illustrations by Brian Wildsmith (OUP, 1963). Originally published in Graves's The Penny Fiddle: Poems for Children, 1960, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone.

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Robert Graves was born at Wimbledon, England, in 1895. Though celebrated for his books, including his classic World War I autobiography and raw account of the war Good-Bye to All That (1929), and I, Claudius (1934), and work as a critic and classical scholar and translator, he considered himself foremost a poet. During the Battle of the Somme in 1916 he was badly wounded and left for dead. In 1929, he left England and eventually -- with brief stays in Cairo and, during the Spanish Civil War, the United States -- settled in Majorca, where lived until his death in 1985. For Michele at Scholar's Blog's thorough biography of Graves, go to her War Poets website, Counter-Attack.

The Robert Graves Archive is a marvelous online resource; it includes his poetry, audio files of Graves reading, multimedia resources, and various scholarly materials on the web.

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A Wrung Sponge has today's round-up, and some Wallace Stevens. Thank you!

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