Would you like to hear your children spontaneously quoting stanzas of poetry? (Real, meter-and-rhyme verses about real things?) I know I do! And when certain poems become a part of your family experience, quoting snippets at each other can be like an affirmation of love.
What surprises me into gratitude is how easily – not quite accidentally, but with very little stress – it happened for my family.
Now poetry, like calamari, is not for everyone, so don’t add this to a list of things good parents should do. And I think a love of poetry is more alchemy than science, so I’m not claiming that we discovered a guaranteed process. But my family owes much to the beautiful collection, A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Lewis Stevenson.
A treasure-trove of sixty-one poems, this book includes “Rain,” which is beautifully explicated by Zach Franzen here, and my kids’ most-quoted, “The Swing.”
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside –
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown –
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
—– —– —–
We hardly ever visit a playground without hearing that poem a couple of times!
Now if, as Roger Housden argues, poetry is valuable because it gives us fresh eyes, then it has the potential to call forth wonder and gratitude for the smallest things. And the poetry of Robert Lewis Stevenson does exactly this for the smallest people.
With a heart for writing about adventure, small woodland creatures, and what happens when you realize there are no ordinary places, he is the author of A Year in the Big Old Garden, a short story collection for children 4-10.
He occasionally blogs at jamesdwitmer.com or @jamesdwitmer, spends his free time digging in the garden with his wife, and is pleasantly surprised to find that loving his family makes meaningful change in the world.