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INTRODUCTION

This Anthology is not a book of verse for children, but a book of verse about children. It has been said that childhood is the discovery of English poetry, but there appears to exist on this theme no representative anthology of English verse,—under which title is included American verse. Childhood has been interpreted in its real sense, that is, as covering the first twelve years of life. With the ‘teens' begin other interests and characteristics.

Childhood is the period of our lives which the majority of us find it most difficult to recall. It is true that we remember the incidents of its later years. The setting of the picture remains more or less vivid. But the inner meaninghow we felt-has become a sealed book to too many. Few retain the inner light, which Vaughan and Wordsworth sighed for not wholly in vain, that enables them to

travel back And tread again that ancient track. The activities and trivialities of earth have blotted out the unsullied vision of childhood and caused it to fade into the light of common day.

It is this sense of remoteness that has inspired in finer natures a reverence for childhood that is akin to awe. Francis Thompson felt it :

I would not fear thee, sweet, at all,

Wert thou not so harmless-small. Mr. G. K. Chesterton doubts if anyone of any tenderness or imagination can see the hand of a child and not be a little frightened of it. If our behaviour to children seems condescending, it cloaks a profound respect. We feel that they and their ways are supernatural.

One reason for this is our sense of children's vast potentialities—far greater than ours, since as yet they are untrammelled by upbringing and custom--and their complete unconsciousness of their own wealth. 'Our misery,' wrote Thomas Traherne in his Centuries of Meditation, proceedeth ten thousand times more from the outward bondage of opinion and custom, than from any inward corruption or depravation of Nature: ... it is not our parents' loins, so much as our parents' lives, that enthralls and blinds us: In my pure primitive virgin Light, while my apprehensions were natural and unmixed, I cannot remember but that I was ten thousand times more prone to good and excellent things than evil.'

Another feature of childhood that eludes us is children's unquestioning acceptance of the order of things in which they find themselves. The writer of the twenty-third Psalm has given the most complete picture of earthly happiness that has ever been drawn. He conceived a state of mind accepting earthly conditions and circumstances without question or doubt, secure from every care through a sense of Divine protection, and enjoying the gifts of Nature with gratitude and simplicity. He depicts that con tentment that appears to lie within the reach of all, but to which none attain. Yet childhood inhabits this country. This Heaven lies about us in our infancy. The Psalmist has described no unknown land, but the land through which most of us have travelled on our way to riper years. Possibly the memory of it was his inspiration.

It seems to the compiler that there is a place for a representative anthology of English verse upon infancy and childhood. The poets are the world’s ‘Seers. They are less influenced by custom and convention than other men. They are more conscious of human potentiality and have a clearer vision of human destiny. In these and other ways they are nearer to childhood and more able to interpret it. Moreover, poems on childhood are comparatively few in number, and many of them are little known. They are scattered in many volumes by many writers, and the light they throw on the most beautiful period of human life is thus lost to persons who are interested in children but who are not regular readers of poetry.

In this book the aim has been to present poetry for poetry's sake. The compiler has used what judgment and ability he has to bind into the garland nothing that is not worthy of the august name of Poetry-nothing that does not reach a certain level of genius. For this reason many poems beautiful in conception but lacking something in finish and form have been excluded. Others, some of them well known, have been excluded on the ground that they treat of childhood sentimentally, that is to say with conventional emotion. A severe critic may discover here and there a poem that owes its presence rather to the happy choice of its subject than to its intrinsic merits. And poems reminiscent of childhood, poems of motherhood, incidents from human life and even aspects of Nature have been included deliberately, in order to give variety to the collection and to lighten the task of the reader. No verbal changes have been made, but a few of the poems have been extracted from longer poems and, in the case of Shakespeare, from plays. In others omissions have been made when it seemed that by doing so a greater unity of idea or a more uniform level of excellence was secured. In a subject anthology such as this the task of the gatherer is less easy than in a general anthology. In a general anthology there is no limitation but length of poem, size of volume and the law of copyright. In a subject anthology these restrictions exist, but there is added to them the limitation of subject. The aim here has been to offer a book that is repre. sentative, not exhaustive, and representative of the poetry on the subject, not of any particular poet, the bulk of whose work may have lain, and in most cases did lie, in other directions.

A chronological order-chronological according to the authors' dates of birth-has been adopted as being on the whole the most interesting and the most satisfactory. This arrangement has not been rigidly kept in the case of living authors.

The earliest child poem in the language is The Pearl, which dates from the fourteenth century. The poem is some twelve hundred lines in length; selection would not be easy, and were any portion of it included in the present volume it would be necessary to modernise the language. But reference must be made to it.

The poet laments the loss of a daughter in early years. Falling asleep on the grave from sorrow, he visits in dreams a strange country, where he meets a white-robed maiden whom eventually he recognises. He asks her whether she is really his Pearl, since whose loss he has been ' a joyless jeweller.' The picture of the maiden, the review of Heaven, the painting of the scenery, and, above all, the strong passion of the writer make the poem a notable one.

William Langland, in the Vision of Piers Plowman, tells us the interesting fact that children became so precious as a result of the Black Death that there was a tendency to spoil them, a tendency not common in the fourteenth century. Chaucer has given two notable pictures of childhood, the little clergeoun of the Prioress' Tale and the children of Erl Hugelyn of Pyze, in the tale of the Monk, who concludes by referring his hearers to Dante. But what struck foreigners at this time was rather the lack of affection the English showed to their children. At the age of seven to nine years

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