The commercially important publishing categories sometimes overlap: the non-book and the celebrity book. The non-book is an object, with contents of little or no importance. The celebrity book is supposed to profit from association with a name customers recognize. But sometimes that recognizable name comes with a real book. Caroline Kennedy's excellent new anthology (illustrated by Jon J. Muth) is an excellent book. The editor shows great respect for children by choosing real poems and including Edward Lear, A.A. Milne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter de la Mare -- the first-class poets for children.
Kennedy also includes Emily Dickinson's " 'Hope' is the thing with feathers," Thomas Hardy's "Snow in the Suburbs," Wordsworth's "Daffodils," Shakespeare's song for Ariel, William Blake's "The Tyger," Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish," Marianne Moore's "A Jelly-Fish," Theodore Roethke's "The Sloth," and William Butler Yeats's "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," along with good jokes by the likes of Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath and even Wallace Stevens's "The Emperor of Ice-Cream." Also, Antonio Machado's "Has My Heart Gone to Sleep," translated by Alan S. Trueblood:
Has my heart gone to sleep?
Have the beehives of my dreams
stopped working, the waterwheel
of the mind run dry,
scoops turning empty,
only shadow inside?
No, my heart is not asleep.
It is awake, wide awake.
Not asleep, not dreaming --
its eyes are opened wide
watching distant signals, listening
on the rim of the vast silence.
The editor even includes, in an appendix, the text of this and all translated poems in their original languages.
Kennedy intelligently avoids (mostly) the cloying or over-ingratiating contemporary juvenile authors and includes good, sound, anonymous nonsense such as:
Moses supposes his toeses are roses,
But Moses supposes erroneously;
For nobody's toeses are posies of roses
As Moses supposes his toeses to be.
Also included are some good folk-sick-jokes, for example:
Willie with a thirst for gore
Nailed his sister to the door
Mother said with humor quaint
"Careful, Willie, don't scratch the paint!"
Kennedy deserves credit for recognizing William Hughes Mearns with his famous four lines often supposed to be anonymous:
The Little Man
Who Wasn't There
As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish, I wish he'd stay away.
The book charmingly includes the Lord's Prayer along with Lewis Carroll's "The Crocodile," a parody that has outlived its original, moralistic target:
How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!
Reading such poems next to more ambitious work by Blake and Dickinson illuminates both kinds by making clear the element of song in the great poems and the element of meaning in the nonsense. This book is a gift for the adults who read it to or with children, as well as for the children. That fact is epitomized by the decision to close with Wallace Stevens's great, quiet poem "The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm." "The quiet was part of the meaning," writes Stevens, "part of the mind." The quiet, impish, commanding voice of poetry can be heard in this selection of poems "for" children but -- happily -- not only for children.
(Antonio Machado's "Has My Heart Gone to Sleep," William Hughes Mearns's "The Little Man Who Wasn't There," Lewis Carroll's "The Crocodile" and the anonymous rhymes "Moses" and "Careless Willie" can be found in Caroline Kennedy's anthology "A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children." Hyperion. Copyright © 2005 by Caroline Kennedy.)