“’the Train’ Essay
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A.A. Milne and his Children’s Poetry
Alan Alexander Milne was born in January of 1882, in Kilburn, England. In his day, and in many decades (and maybe even centuries!) to come, he was a brilliant writer for children and adults both. My contention is that Milne was writing for adults as much as he was children. My rationale for choosing A. A. Milne is that my mother was wise enough to expose me to his prose and poetry at an early age and he changed my life. His philosophy was universal, regardless of whether an adult was speaking it or one of the animals. He had a son named Christopher Robin, and his children’s books were fashioned after Christopher and the magical 100-Acre Wood—part of the wood where Milne and his family lived. Probably best known for his character Winnie-the-Pooh—and all of Pooh’s close friends: Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Tigger, Roo, Eeyore, and assorted other friends and relations in his story books--A.A. Milne wrote wonderful books of poetry as well. But he also wrote plays and novels and journal articles, and every page he turned his hand to turned into magic.
The two volumes of children’s poetry are entitled “When We Were Very Young,” and “Now We Are Six.” The writing of them was interspersed with the writing of “Winnie the Pooh,” and “The House at Pooh Corner,” which were prose stories with some poetry woven through them. Children who are lucky enough to be exposed to these volumes so many years after A.A. Milne’s prolific life are very lucky indeed.
Let it rain, who cares? I've a train -- upstairs, With a brake that I make from a string sorta’ thing -- Which works -- in jerks, 'Cause it drops in the spring and it stops with the string, And the wheels all stick so quick that it feels Like a thing that I make with a brake, not string And that's what I make when the day's all wet, It's a good sort of brake, but it hasn't worked yet!” (Milne)
How totally delightful. How could a child fail to relate to a poem like this? Almost all children have tried to invent things at times, and almost all have, mostly good-naturedly, failed!
I could go on and on quoting, but let’s figure out what the charm is of these poems to people of all ages. For one thing, Milne created a world that is practically devoid of adults—and what’s more fun than that for children? The whole 100-Acre Wood and all its inhabitants was missing adults--though a few do appear in the poems, but those who appear in the poems play a secondary role. It as if Christopher Robin, Milne’s son, along with other little boys and girls in the poems, became the adults, and the animals became the children, and it all ran smoothly and fairly effortlessly, and, well, it’s all just plain silly at times, and what child does not love silly? His rhyming is superbly good too, making these poems sing-songy and fun to read out loud. And there is a seemingly effortless simplicity to the flow of his language.
The characters in the poems are animals or little boys or girls—characters that are easy for children to identify with. I’ve yet to meet a child who didn’t love stuffed animals, and so personifying them makes them ever so much more appealing. Reportedly, the models for some of the characters that A.A. Milne wrote about were his own Christophoper Robin’s stuffed animals. They are charming, engaging, comforting, familiar, both funny and sad, and full of wonder. The 100-acre Wood seems a very safe place indeed, where nothing much ever happens—almost like, “The Golden Age of history and legend, and the lost paradise of childhood.” (A. Lurie.) Children love these books, and often clamber for stuffed Poohs and Piglets and toys just like Christopher Robin’s. My own memory of reading these books as a small child is that they all blended together for me, poetry and prose alike, and that I spilled grape juice on the four volume set in its box! Pooh and the other familars from the 100-acre Wood don’t appear nearly as much as in the prose works, but they do appear:
“So wherever I am, there's always Pooh, There's always Pooh and Me. ‘What would I do?’ I said to Pooh, ‘If it wasn't for you,’ and Pooh said: ‘True, It isn't much fun for One, but Two can
Can stick together,’ says Pooh, says he. ‘That's how it is," says Pooh.” (Milne)
Does not the engaging philosophy of the poem above speak to both children and adults? It contains a truism that can endure throughout the life of the reader. “It isn’t much fun for one, but Two can stick together, says Pooh” I would hope that as many children as possible get to be exposed to the poetry of A. A. Milne in their childhoods, because his writing is life-altering—at least it was for me.
Lurie, A. “Now We Are Fifty.” The New York Times Book Review. 14 November, 1976 (27). web
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