If there was poetry I cut my teeth on, besides the poetry of the King James translation of the Bible, it was the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson. I think one or both of my parents must have known and loved his work when they were children, because we always seemed to have at least one copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses lying on the shelves. I’m pretty sure we had more than one copy because no one set of illustrations springs to mind when I think about some of the poems I loved best.
Of course, that might also be due to the fact I’ve seen still more versions of his poetry in my adulthood. A number of his poems appear in almost every good anthology or collection of poetry favorites for children, including quite a few we’ve read to the sweet girl in the past six plus years since she was born. His poem The Swing has been anthologized over and over...I still remember the sweet girl, at the age of only about three and a half, figuring out that there were two copies of this poem in two different books on her shelves. She loved to take them out and compare the very different pictures; most of all, she loved to hear the poem read again and again.
I still love “The Swing.” No matter how many times I read it, it never seems to lose its simple magic:
How do you like o 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!
I never lose my appreciation for the music of this lovely poem, its back and forth, up and down cadence that does indeed seem to mimic the rhythm of swinging.
And I never lose my appreciation for the way it manages to evoke the memories of the sheer joy I felt when I would swing, which was often…first on our backyard swingset when I was little, and then (when I’d gotten older and the swingset had long since been taken down) on a wooden swing my Dad built for me in a backyard maple. How I loved that swing, which had good, long ropes so I could really pump up and feel like I was flying, and a wide, comfortable seat that I could laze in, one toe merely dragging on the ground, if I just felt like rocking back and forth a bit while I read a good book on a sunny day.
This poem manages to capture all of that feeling for me, and it does it in just a handful of cheerful, rhyming words. Doesn’t it make you happy just to savor those phrases: “pleasantest thing,” “cattle and all,” “garden green,” and “roof so brown”?
There are other Robert Louis Stevenson poems I love: “The Land of Counterpane,” “Bed in Summer,” “Where Go the Boats,” “The Seaside,” and perhaps especially “Rain” (just to name a few) but “The Swing” holds a special place in my heart.
Poetry months posts from 2008: Wendell Berry; William Butler Yeats