Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Origins of Cynthia in the Snow by Gwendolyn Brooks

One of my favorite poems to read each winter is Gwendolyn Brooks' "Cynthia in the Snow." I posted it here on the blog on a Poetry Friday about five years ago, and it has been, without a doubt, the most visited post on this blog. Apparently other people love this poem too, and go hunting for it, not just in winter but at other times of year. I don't think it's always that easy to find, and its musical playfulness is so lovely.

I first came across the poem years ago, when the sweet girl was very young, in a big collection of children's poems. I didn't know until today that this poem was actually part of a whole collection of poems that Brooks wrote for children, back in 1956, called Bronzeville Boys and Girls. Thanks to Brain Pickings, I now not only know that, I also know that Brooks worked on the collection with the wonderful editor Ursula Nordstrom, whom I've written about more than once here. Why am I not surprised that Ursula helped bring Cynthia into the world? Reading that today just felt serendipitous.

One of the nicest things about the Brain Pickings article is that it provides a big sampling of other poems from Bronzeville Boys and Girls, along with original artwork. Each poem is like a little gem, a portrait of a distinct child doing and thinking and creating and playing just like a child does.

Here's one I enjoyed, entitled "Narcissa."

Some of the girls are playing jacks.
Some are playing ball.
But small Narcissa is not playing
Anything at all.

Small Narcissa sits upon
A brick in her back yard
And looks at tiger-lilies,
And shakes her pigtails hard.

First she is an ancient queen
In pomp and purple veil.
Soon she is a singing wind.
And, next, a nightingale.

How fine to be Narcissa,
A-changing like all that!
While sitting still, as still, as still
As anyone ever sat!
What a wonderful poet was Gwendolyn Brooks. 

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