Friday, September 21, 2007

A Child's Garden of Verses

My grandma (who would have been 98 this year) told me that the first poem she ever memorized in school was "The Cow," from Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.

This is the edition of A Child's Garden of Verses that I had when I was small. (The illustrations are by Elizabeth Webbe.) I remember Grandma reading it to me, and learning "My holes were empty like a cup / In every hole the sea came up / till it could come no more." I knew all about that--we used to holiday at the beach too.

This is the book that The Apprentice had, illustrated by the Provensens, except hers is in a boring library binding. I taught her a tune to "The Wind" years ago, and we still sing it sometimes.
We had a rather poorly printed copy of this red one for awhile, but nobody paid much attention to it.

The lady next door also gave The Apprentice a copy of Donna Green's Leaves From a Child's Garden of Verses, with lovely paintings of tea parties.

And there are so many other editions out there, like those illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith, Brian Wildsmith, Tasha Tudor, Gyo Fujikawa...

But this is Crayons' favourite, and I think it's very nice too. It's a Golden Book, published in 1978--not the Little Golden Book edition illustrated by Eloise Wilkin, but the bigger one illustrated by Susan Bonners. The faces of the children in this book aren't the most beautiful. But the fairies in the garden are adorable, particularly a little person in purple who is putting two fairy babies to bed in flower cups. Crayons thinks her purple dress must be made from one of the flowers in the picture.

The other interesting thing about all these editions is that most of them don't contain all the poems in Stevenson's original text. If you don't count the dedication he wrote to his nanny, the Project Gutenberg e-text contains forty-one poems in the first section, plus nine in a block called "The Child Alone," eight called "Garden Days," and six more personal-note kind of poems called "Envoys."

Bonners' book starts with To Any Reader, and then contains The Swing, Foreign Lands, My Ship and I, Where Go the Boats?, Bed in Summer, My Shadow, Block City, Rain, The Flowers, The Hayloft, Farewell to the Farm, Autumn Fires, Windy Nights, Winter-Time, Picture-Books in Winter, The Land of Counterpane, The Land of Nod, Nest Eggs, Young Night-Thought, and The Moon. (21 poems.)

The Provensens' edition (also published by Golden Press) also starts with To Any Reader and includes several of the common poems, but also has several that Bonners' book doesn't have: At the Sea-Side, Travel, The Wind, The Land of Story-Books, From a Railway Carriage, A Good Play, The Cow, Looking Forward, The Little Land, Whole Duty of Children, Singing, The Dumb Soldier, My Kingdom, Time to Rise, Fairy Bread, Pirate Story, My Bed is a Boat, The Lamplighter, and Escape at Bedtime. (32 poems in all.)

Neither of them contains the poem to Alison Cunningham (Stevenson's nurse), A Thought, Auntie's Skirts, System, A Good Boy, Marching Song, The Happy Thought, Keepsake Mill, Good and Bad Children, Foreign Children, The Sun Travels, Looking-Glass River, North-West Passage, The Unseen Playmate, My Treasures, Armies in the Fire, Night and Day, Summer Sun, The Gardener, Historical Associations, and the "envoys" except for "To Any Reader." Some of this is with very good reason: "Little Indian, Sioux, or Crow /Little frosty Eskimo / Little Turk or Japanee, / Oh! don't you wish that you were me?" (Foreign Children) But there are a few treasures tucked into those others as well: "Happy hearts and happy faces, / Happy play in grassy places-- / That was how in ancient ages, / Children grew to kings and sages." (Good and Bad Children) And can we debate the theology behind this one?:


Every night my prayers I say,
And get my dinner every day;
And every day that I've been good,
I get an orange after food.

The child that is not clean and neat,
With lots of toys and things to eat,
He is a naughty child, I'm sure--
Or else his dear papa is poor.

Well, anyway...I can't narrow it down to one favourite. Because if I said we could only keep the Provensens' version, then we'd be missing out on "Fair are grown-up people's trees, / But the fairest woods are these; / Where, if I were not so tall, / I should live for good and all." Not the mention the purple-gowned fairy that goes with it. And "The kirk and the palace, the ships and the men, / And as long as I live and where'er I may be, / I'll always remember my town by the sea." But how can you have A Child's Garden without The Lamplighter and Escape at Bedtime?

So it's settled. We'll keep them all.


Queen of Carrots said...

I'm still debating which version to get for the ducklings. (We already scored a copy of *When We Were Very Young* and *Now We Are Six* to be tucked away until Christmas.)

I got the Tasha Tudor one from the library, and it has all the poems (even the "Foreign Children"!), but I don't really enjoy her illustrations that much. (Heresy, heresy! They're just a little too sweet for my taste.) I haven't seen any other versions whose illustrations I like better, though.

Sarah said...

Enjoyed the post, Mama Squirrel.

My son just memorized The Cow (still copying it out on Mondays) and is now learning The Wind. Our copy of A Child's Garden of Verses came from the AO site, so nothing fancy over here. But I did put a bright yellow construction paper cover on it!

DD was so thrilled that her brother is now memorizing The Wind--she can barely stop herself from reciting it (quietly, at least) while he's working on it. The Wind was the first poem she ever memorized.

I would love a copy with illustrations! I'll have to do some browsing in the thrift stores...:)