It is in us to like poetry, just as it is in us to dance. Children like both, as they like making pictures. It almost seems as if someone has to teach us that we don't know how to dance, or how to read poems.

The best writers do not write "for children" from a superior position, speaking down from the heights of "understanding poetry" to those who do not understand it. Dr. Seuss, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Lear and Walter de la Mare made the kinds of poems they themselves would like to read. I admire these poets because they strive to give pleasure not merely to children but to readers of any age.

I like de la Mare's sense of the grotesque. Here are the opening stanzas of his

John Mouldy

I spied John Mouldy in his cellar,

Deep down twenty steps of stone;

In the dusk he sat a-smiling,

Smiling there alone.

He read no book, he snuffed no candle;

The rats ran in, the rats ran out;

And far and near, the drip of water

Went whisp'ring about.

Maybe even more deliciously weird and alarming is

Alas, Alack!

Ann, Ann!

Come! quick as you can!

There's a fish that talks

In the frying-pan.

Out of the fat,

As clear as glass,

He put up his mouth

And moaned "Alas!"

Oh, most mournful,

"Alas, alack!"

Then turned to his sizzling,

And sank him back.

Not all of de la Mare's poems enjoy creepiness and cruelty like these two. Some are sweet, but none are saccharine. De la Mare's preference for something other than the obviously nice shines through in a poem one of my daughters has always liked:

Bunches of Grapes

"Bunches of grapes," says Timothy;

"Pomegranates pink," says Elaine;

"A junket of cream and a cranberry tart

For me," says Jane.

"Love-in-a-mist," says Timothy;

"Primroses pale," says Elaine;

"A nosegay of pinks and mignonette

For me," says Jane.

"Chariots of gold," says Timothy;

"Silvery wings," says Elaine;

"A bumpity ride in a wagon of hay

For me," says Jane.

(Walter de la Mare's poems "John Mouldy," "Alas, Alack!" and "Bunches of Grapes" can be found in "Rhymes and Verses: Collected Poems for Young People." Henry Holt, 1947. Poems copyright © 1923, 1928, 1942 by Walter de la Mare.)