42. “When We Were Very Young” & “Now We Are Six”

:my childhood, part 1:

:i threw a lot of tantrums like that:

When I was a tiny little girl, even tinier than I am now, my mom and I used to read two books of poems very regularly – When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, both by A.A. Milne (of Winnie-the-Pooh fame). The first book of poetry was published in 1924 and the second in 1927.

:my childhood, part 2:

:not quite sure what's happening in this one:

Of course, I have to address Milne’s role as the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh (actually, Pooh Bear makes his world debut in a poem called “Teddy Bear” in When We Were Very Young). Winnie was the actual teddy of Milne’s actual son, who was actually named Christopher Robin. It follows, without much explanation, that Milne wrote the Pooh books for Christopher Robin. Christopher Robin also appears in many of the poems in When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six.

:christopher robin, winnie-the-pooh and aa milne:

:christopher robin, winnie-the-pooh and aa milne:

Now back to the poetry, please.

One time, for a talent show themed birthday party, I recited the following poem, entitled:

Disobedience

James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.

James James
Said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he;
“You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don’t go down with me.”

James James
Morrison’s Mother
Put on a golden gown.
James James Morrison’s Mother
Drove to the end of the town.

James James
Morrison’s Mother
Said to herself, said she:
“I can get right down
to the end of the town
and be back in time for tea.”

King John
Put up a notice,
“LOST or STOLEN or STRAYED!
JAMES JAMES MORRISON’S MOTHER
SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN MISLAID.
LAST SEEN
WANDERING VAGUELY:
QUITE OF HER OWN ACCORD,
SHE TRIED TO GET DOWN
TO THE END OF THE TOWN –
FORTY SHILLINGS REWARD!”

James James
Morrison Morrison
(Commonly known as Jim)
Told his
Other relations
Not to go blaming him.

James James
Said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he:
“You must never go down to the end of the town
without consulting me.”

James James
Morrison’s mother
Hasn’t been heard of since.
King John said he was sorry,
So did the Queen and Prince.

King John
(Somebody told me)
Said to a man he knew:
“If people go down to the end of the town, well,
what can anyone do?”

(Now then, very softly)

J.J.
M.M.
W.G.Du P.
Took great
C/O his M*****
Though he was only 3.

J.J. said to his M*****
“M*****,” he said, said he:
“You-must-never-go-down-to-the-end-of-the-town-
if-you-don’t-go-down-with-ME!”

My recitation was flawless and full of feeling. Some of the adults present may have been in tears. I won first place. I think I got a dollar.

:the dollar bill was a rectangle:

:the dollar i got was a rectangle:

When I read “Disobedience” today, I still hear it in my head the way my Mama used to read it to me. It lilts to a very particular rhythm, with certain words emphasized in a certain way. Like “Disobedience,” all of these poems have stuck with me (or to me – to my bones, like a good bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese). I used to memorize them, just for the fun of it. At one point I could recite five or six of them without looking.

To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of poetry. I don’t like oblique imagery, or the verbose nature of the Romantics. I don’t get visceral joy from complex rhyming schemes. I don’t like the stark rules of the villanelle.

But – I like poems that don’t rhyme. I like poems that break structure. I like nonsense words. Maybe this is just a perversity in my character. But I’d like to think that it’s thanks to Lewis Carroll and, primarily, Alan Alexander Milne.

:isn't the rectangular paneling beautiful?:

:isn't the rectangular paneling beautiful?:

When We Were Very Young contains 44 poems. I think I read this volume most often, since I feel a stronger connection to more of the poems in here than those in Now We Are Six. But I will address them both, nonetheless. Now We Are Six contains 35 poems, in which Winnie plays a much bigger role. I remember less of these poems, but the ones that do pique my heart are just as loved as those in Milne’s other collection.

Whenever I feel sad, I pull out my tattered old copies of these two books. I turn to my favorite, yellowed pages and read a poem or two. I love the musicality and the lilt of Milne’s work. I love his depiction of childhood. It’s a world of innocence and dreams and – of course – fears. But it’s also a world that – ultimately – we can live in, and blithely.

Perhaps most impressively, Milne manages to invite everyone in. One doesn’t have to be six, or seven, or even eight or ten to feel the life of these poems in an honest and beautiful way. They have charmed children and adults alike for generations, and I expect that they will forever.

Now – today, in Washington, DC, it is a very rainy day. And on rainy days, it’s easy to feel low. So, out of love for my readers (and also for myself) I’m going to post some poems. Because, no matter how old the patient, a dose (or two, or seven) of A.A. Milne’s poetry is often the best antidote, whether for sad feelings or broken hearts or fears of aging or thoughts of anguish. And for as long as one is immersed in Milne’s gentle world, all grown-up concerns get to disappear.

:rain, but not in washington:

:rain, but not in washington:

Please, just sit and read.

The Dormouse and The Doctor

There once was a Dormouse who lived in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red),
And all the day long he’d a wonderful view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).

A Doctor came hurrying round, and he said:
“Tut-tut, I am sorry to find you in bed.
Just say ‘Ninety-nine’ while I look at your chest….
Don’t you find that chrysanthemums answer the best?”

The Dormouse looked round at the view and replied
(When he’d said “Ninety-nine”) that he’d tried and he’d tried,
And much the most answering things that he knew
Were geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).

The Doctor stood frowning and shaking his head,
And he took up his shiny silk hat as he said:
“What the patient requires is a change,” and he went
To see some chrysanthemum people in Kent.

The Dormouse lay there, and he gazed at the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue),
And he knew there was nothing he wanted instead
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).

The Doctor came back and, to show what he meant,
He had brought some chrysanthemum cuttings from Kent.
“Now these,” he remarked, “give a much better view
Than geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).”

They took out their spades and they dug up the bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red),
And they planted chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
“And now,” said the Doctor, “we’ll soon have you right.”

The Dormouse looked out, and he said with a sigh:
“I suppose all these people know better than I.
It was silly, perhaps, but I did like the view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).”

The Doctor came round and examined his chest,
And ordered him Nourishment, Tonics, and Rest.
“How very effective,” he said, as he shook
The thermometer, “all these chrysanthemums look!”

The Dormouse turned over to shut out the sight
Of the endless chrysanthemums (yellow and white).
“How lovely,” he thought, “to be back in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red.)”

The Doctor said, “Tut! It’s another attack!”
And ordered him Milk and Massage-of-the-back,
And Freedom-from-worry and Drives-in-a-car,
And murmured, “How sweet your chrysanthemums are!”

The Dormouse lay there with his paws to his eyes,
And imagined himself such a pleasant surprise:
“I’ll pretend the chrysanthemums turn to a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)!”

The Doctor next morning was rubbing his hands,
And saying, “There’s nobody quite understands
These cases as I do! The cure has begun!
How fresh the chrysanthemums look in the sun!”

The Dormouse lay happy, his eyes were so tight
He could see no chrysanthemums, yellow or white.
And all that he felt at the back of his head
Were delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).

And that is the reason (Aunt Emily said)
If a Dormouse gets in a chrysanthemum bed,
You will find (so Aunt Emily says) that he lies
Fast asleep on his front with his paws to his eyes.

:the books are also full of sweet illustrations:

:the books are also full of sweet illustrations:

Buckingham Palace

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
“A soldier’s life is terrible hard,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We saw a guard in a sentry-box.
“One of the sergeants looks after their socks,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We looked for the King, but he never came.
“Well, God take care of him, all the same,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
They’ve great big parties inside the grounds.
“I wouldn’t be King for a hundred pounds,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
A face looked out, but it wasn’t the King’s.
“He’s much too busy a-signing things,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
“Do you think the King knows all about me?”
“Sure to, dear, but it’s time for tea,”
Says Alice.

Happiness

John had
Great Big
Waterproof
Boots on;
John had a
Great Big
Waterproof
Hat;
John had a
Great Big
Waterproof
Mackintosh —
And that
(Said John)
Is
That.

Brownie

In a corner of the bedroom is a great big curtain,
Someone lives behind it, but I don’t know who;
I think it is a Brownie, but I’m not quite certain.
(Nanny isn’t certain, too.)

I looked behind the curtain, but he went so quickly-
Brownies never wait to say, “How do you do?”
They wriggle off at once because they’re all so tickly.
(Nanny says they’re tickly too.)

Vespers

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

God bless Mummy. I know that’s right.
Wasn’t it fun in the bath tonight?
The cold’s so cold, and the hot’s so hot.
Oh! God bless Daddy – I quite forgot.

If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny’s dressing-gown on the door.
It’s a beautiful blue, but it hasn’t a hood.
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good.

Mine has a hood, and I lie in bed,
And pull the hood right over my head,
And I shut my eyes, and I curl up small,
And nobody knows that I’m there at all.

Oh! Thank you, God, for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said “Bless Daddy,” so what can it be?
Oh! now I remember it. God bless Me.

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

“Vespers” is the last poem in When We Were Very Young. I’ve never in my life said prayers before bed. I don’t think I ever knew what “Vespers” was supposed to mean (I don’t think I know now), but for some reason this poem always felt hauntingly beautiful to me. Maybe because it was such an honest image drawn of a son by a loving father.

Now, let’s move on to a few gems from Now We Are Six.

Solitude

I have a house where I go
When there’s too many people,
I have a house where I go
Where no one can be;

I have a house where I go,
Where nobody ever says “No”;
Where no one says anything-so
There is no one but me.

:christopher robin in his bed, a-sneezling:

:christopher robin in his bed, a-sneezling:

Sneezles

Christopher Robin
Had wheezles
And sneezles,
They bundled him
Into
His bed.
They gave him what goes
With a cold in the nose,
And some more for a cold
In the head.
They wondered
If wheezles
Could turn
Into measles,
If sneezles
Would turn
Into mumps;
They examined his chest
For a rash,
And the rest
Of his body for swellings and lumps.
They sent for some doctors
In sneezles
And wheezles
To tell them what ought
To be done.
All sorts and conditions
Of famous physicians
Came hurrying round
At a run.
They all made a note
Of the state of his throat,
They asked if he suffered from thirst;
They asked if the sneezles
Came after the wheezles,
Or if the first sneezle
Came first.
They said, “If you teazle
A sneezle
Or wheezle,
A measle
May easily grow.
But humour or pleazle
The wheezle
Or sneezle,
The measle
Will certainly go.”
They expounded the reazles
For sneezles
And wheezles,
The manner of measles
When new.
They said “If he freezles
In draughts and in breezles,
Then PHTHEEZLES
May even ensue.”

Christopher Robin
Got up in the morning,
The sneezles had vanished away.
And the look in his eye
Seemed to say to the sky,
“Now, how to amuse them to-day?”

And, finally:

The End

When I was One,
I had just begun.

When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive.

But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

And that’s the last poem in Now We Are Six. And the end, as well, of this post. May we all take a note from A. A. Milne and stay a little bit six – for ever and ever.

picture-a4

October 15, 2009. Art, Books, Culture, Rectangles.

4 Comments

  1. Trys replied:

    I used to read ‘Now We Are Six’ with my parents as a kid as well — quite delightful!

    Have you heard of the ‘addition’ coming out?

  2. Eliza H replied:

    I hadn’t heard about that. Some unedited poems or something?

  3. AlexanderL replied:

    Hi, I know that this is completely off whatever the subject is here, but I couldn’t find any other way to contact the owner of this blog:

    I want to use the dollar bill image posted here as a texture in a 3D render, that would be used for commercial purposes. I would like to ask permission to use it, if you are the owner, and if you aren’t, I would like you to direct me to the owner of the image. The dollar bill itself is not copyright, but I believe that individual photos of it are the property of the photographer.

  4. brenda goult replied:

    I own both these books and love reading them when im down.They take me back to being a child sat on my dads knee all safe and secure.Even has a 51 year old they remain my favourite books i just love going back to my childhood memories.All you mummys and daddys out there should invest in these boods especially When we were very young i gaurantee your children will love reading them.

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