FABER & FABER, £12.99 ORDER FOR £11.99 (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897
101 Poems About Childhood edited by Michael Donaghy
Legacy of a poet who understood the evolution of a child's mind
Monday 17 October 2005
Childhood is not an easy subject for poets because, when they write, they often find it all too easy to behave like big kids themselves. In so doing, they not only make themselves look fools, they also vulgarise and trivialise the very idea of childhood. Donaghy recognises that, so in this book there is none of the rubbish so often published in anthologies aimed at the primary school market.
No: this anthology begins with Homer, rockets rapidly forward to the English 17th century, and ends in the present. The focus is not so much on so-called childish behaviour, but the way in which a child's mind works and develops. The book is strongest in the 17th and early-19th centuries. Marvell meditates, soberly and exquisitely, upon the beauty of childhood; Vaughan celebrates its enviable innocence. Traherne takes his praise a little too far - he sounds gluey and false when he celebrates the sinlessness of the child.
Wordsworth treats, acutely and accurately, the psychology of childhood. Then come the mid-Victorian contributions and, for the most part, they bang on too much about the enveloping warmth of those hallowed early days, and how, by contrast, what a terribly chilling disappointment adulthood seems. There is too much self-pity here, we feel, and too much sentimental distortion.
Walt Whitman's "There Was A Child Went Forth" is the greatest contribution from this period - wonderfully clear-eyed in the way it describes, in almost incantatory fashion, how a child is shaped by what he sees and lives through, and how he, in his turn, shapes his own circumambient world. Of the 20th-century poets, Elizabeth Bishop probes deepest, with her lovely poem "In The Waiting Room", a marvellous examination of the sheer, numbing perplexities of growing into one's own small and hopelessly fragile identity.
Michael, you have done us proud in this book - not least for the fact that, like the best of children, you lacked pomposity and self-importance, another familiar blight of poets.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 Northern Lights above Britain: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
- 4 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 5 New route to Mars could make manned mission much cheaper and easier
Christmas Day TV guide 2014: What to watch from Strictly Come Dancing to the story of Frozen
Cruel Woman in Black prank sees cinema-goers terrified by movie poster - watch their reactions
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Christmas TV guide 2014: The best shows to watch from Doctor Who to Downton Abbey
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food