Saturday, 23 April 2022

A Treasury

 I've been browsing in The Macmillan Treasury of Poetry for Children (1997), a large illustrated volume that Mrs N spotted in one of Lichfield's remarkably well stocked charity bookshops (I hope their trade is not going to be affected by the impending opening of a new Waterstones). The Macmillan Treasury has a foreword by Charles Causley, who begins by approvingly quoting W.H. Auden (writing about Walter de la Mare): 'It must never be forgotten that, while there are some good poems which are only for adults, because they presuppose adult experience in their readers, there are no good poems which are only for children.' Causley's experience as a schoolteacher taught him that 'given a little trust and encouragement, children are as capable of interpreting the signs and signals, the secret messages of poetry, as adults are venturesome enough to make available to them.' 
  The poems in this capacious volume (getting on for 400 pages) were selected not by Causley but by one Susie Gibbs, about whom no information is given – which seems a little unfair, as the poetry is very well chosen.  The anthology is divided into categories, beginning with 'Wild and Free', ending with 'Good Night', and in between such headings as 'Pets and Friends', 'Ballads and Stories', 'Hopes and Dreams', 'Stuff and Nonsense' and 'Love and Friendship'. There is much of what you'd expect to find in an anthology of this kind, but also much that is unexpected – some of it (in line with the Causley/Auden philosophy) quite challenging and 'adult'. The classic poets, as well as the moderns, are well represented,  and there are plenty of poems I had never come across before. This surprising entry, a cautionary verse of sorts, is by A.E. Housman, whose approach to the death of 'lads' is usually rather more elegiac –

The African Lion

To meet a bad lad on the African waste
  Is a thing that a lion enjoys;
But he rightly and strongly objects to the taste
  Of good and uneatable boys.

When he bites off a piece of a boy of that sort
  He spits it right out of his mouth,
And retires with a loud and dissatisfied snort
  To the east, or the west, or the south.

So lads of good habits, on coming across
  A lion, need feel no alarm
For they know they are sure to escape with the loss
  Of a leg, or a head, or an arm.

I was glad to find this one too, a tender little poem by Elizabeth Jennings – 

The Riding School

We are at grass now, and the emerald meadow
Highlights our polished coats. All afternoon
You trotted, cantered us. How mild we were,
Our bodies were at one 
With yours. Now we are cropping at the shadow
We throw. We scarcely stir.

You never saw us wild or being broken
In. We tossed our saddles off and ran
With streaming manes. Like Pegasus almost
We scorned the air. A man
Took long to tame us. Let your words be spoken
Gently. You own the freedom we have lost.

  It is interesting to compare this anthology with the one I grew up with, The Golden Staircase, about which I have written before. Much is different, but there is a gratifying continuity, and much of the best has carried over to this more recent anthology. Any poetry-loving child growing up with the Macmillan Treasury should count themselves lucky: it is a treasury indeed. The illustrations (by Diz Wallis) are good too. 

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