Monday, February 5

Children's Poetry: Mature Subject Matter?

I've already posted one poem from Christina Rossetti's collection of nursery rhymes, Sing-Song. Many of Christina's nursery rhymes are hauntingly profound (like this one), and a few of her rhymes contained subject matter that was later considered inappropriate for young children, so these pieces were edited out of more recent editions.

What is the taboo subject? Why death, of course!

Perhaps it's right for us to shield our children from this difficult reality. In Christina's time, however, many children would have experienced the death of members of their own family. Protecting children from it was not an option. So Christina wrote rhymes for children about babies dying--and mothers dying, too--and mothers and fathers and aunts and grandmas read or recited them to the little ones.

A Baby's Cradle
A baby's cradle with no baby in it,
A baby's grave where autumn leaves drop sere;
The sweet soul gathered home to Paradise,
The body waiting here.

Why Did Baby Die?
Why did baby die,
Making Father sigh,
Mother cry?

Flowers, that bloom to die,
Make no reply
Of "why?"
But bow and die.

Motherless Baby
Motherless baby and babyless mother,

Bring them together to love one another.

Notice the suggestions of hope for eternity and purpose in death. I suspect the children exposed to these rhymes, mature subject matter and all, were richer for it.

What do you think? Are these sorts of nursery rhymes appropriate for children?

February's theme here is children's poetry, and you are invited to join in.



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