Reclaiming Childhood through Poetry
An Address for "Rebuilding Christian Culture Among the Ruins"
I'm going to talk about poetry today. It has occurred to me lately that in the United States, only Christians, and perhaps a few Orthodox Jews, can still understand what in the world a child is, what a wonder a child is, what a child is even for. Let me begin with the last stanza of a lyric poem by the great John Keats, the "Ode to Autumn":
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Why should a young person read a poem? Why should he read those lines from the "Ode to Autumn"? We can't answer that question without asking some more fundamental ones, simply these: What is a child? What is the child for?
The child shares life with all the other living creatures upon the earth; he eats and drinks, he moves about, he grows, he may eventually bring others of his kind into the world; all these things he shares in common with cattle and dogs and birds of the air and fish of the sea. Yet we perceive—even secular people perceive it dimly—that his life is more than food and drink and raiment; his cup runneth over. What is the life of his life?
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Word & Song by Anthony Esolen to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.