December 14, 2011

The Children's Hour

When I was 10 or 11, I really loved the poem "The Children's Hour" by Longfellow. It felt incredibly real to me, even though it described a ritual that never actually happened in my house. Though we had many wonderful traditions of our own, I desperately longed for this one, specifically.

Last night, I was wrapping my Christmas present to my goddaughter and her three sisters, the Golden Treasury of Poetry (which I highly recommend as a Christmas gift for any family). This book has everything: nonsense rhymes and Shakespeare, ditties about cats and dogs and, gosh, even lobsters, as well as historical poems, folk songs, and great romances (like "The Lady of Shallot").

I was looking for a poem to specifically point out to them as a favorite or a good starting point for their exploration into the world of poetry. Flipping through, I  came across "The Children's Hour" once again, and the memories of sitting, reading it, but being present in it too, through imagination, came flooding back to me. This time the images were different.  Instead of being the little girl, laughing with her sisters as we creep into Father's study, I was an observer.  For, I have put away childish things (well, sometimes) and now the beautiful children I know have taken up the vision. I pray these girls cherish this poem like I did. What a marvelous thing!

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupation,
That is known as the children's hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes,
They are plotting and planning together,
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me,
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all?

I have you fast in my fortress
And will not let you depart,
But put you down in the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

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