A Puffin Quartet of Poets



ISBN 0 14 03.0121 6 First Pub by Penguin Books Ltd 1958  Editor Kay Webb.

‘A Puffin Quartet containing substantial selections from the poems of four of our finest writers of children’s verse:

with notes on the authors and their methods of composing’.

From inside cover –

“A Puffin Quartet of Poets.
This unusual anthology contains a selection of poems from the work of only four poets, but four of the finest contemporary writers of children’s verse. A substantial amount from the work of each is given, enough to show their individual quality and special characteristics.The quartet is made up of, Eleanor Farjeon, James Reeves, E.V.Rieu and Ian Serraillier. There are brief biographical notes and a short introduction to each section suggesting how these poets go to work. Their methods of approach to verse-making prove, in fact, to be so diverse that together they cast much interesting light on the whole subject of composition.”

This little book is probably wholly responsible for my love of poetry. It was given to me when a small child and I loved it. As soon as I could read, I devoured these poems over and over again, revelling in their humour and pathos, and the variety of themes and styles. Of the four poets, I loved James Reeves the best, and having reread the book this week, I can see why. As a musician in the making, I loved his rythmns. In ‘Run a Little’ the rythmn is clear and easy for a child to catch and I remember reading it and then singing it to a made-up tune. Likewise, ‘A Pig-Tale’ had an engaging lilt, like a nursery rhyme, which I found very attractive and read to myself purely for the rhythmn rather than the content.Some of the poems were favuorites because of the subject, like ‘Cows’. Being a country girl, and very fond of cows, this poem really appealed to me along with any poems about animals, such as ‘The Two Mice’ and ‘The Snail’. Young as I was, I also understood the metaphor of the sea maskerading as a dog in the poem called ‘The Sea’. This was perhaps a more grown up poem, giving me a little insight into the possibilities of poetry and preparing me for something a little more complex.

E.V.Rieu had me enthralled by his humourous poems, such as ‘Mr Blob’ and ‘Sir Smashmam Uppe’ and the cleverness of ‘A musical  at Home’ stretched my vocabulary and teased my brain as I realised the connections between the characters, their names and their given attributes. However, not surprisingly for a little girl, my heart went out to the very sad little hippo in ‘The Hippopotamus’s Birthday’. I remember being able to relate to the hippo’s sadness and crying for him. This was the poem I remembered all these years later, such was the impact, when I picked up the book again. Then there are poems that seemed to have little or no effect on me as a child. Perhaps I didn’t understand them on the first reading and didn’t attempt to read and understand them later. One good poem in this category would be ‘The Green Train’ which I have not remembered, as it was a little deeper and more meaningful than some of the others.

‘Mrs Malone’ was my favourite of Eleanor Farjeon’s poems, and I enjoyed re-reading it again. The story is about the generous humanity of a woman who takes in starved animals, even though she is very poor herself. Animals again! Also ‘Cat’…a poem guaranteed almost to be loved by a little girl. Ian Serrailier’s ‘Girls and Boys Come out to Play’ is enjoyable because of the references to nursery rhyme characters, but although it is very cleverly written, I am not sure that children today will recognise some of the rhymes and the fairy tale characters. I grew up with the rhyme about the crooked man, but again, perhaps contemporay children have not. Surely they could not fail to enjoy the story or the repitition of words; or the notion of everything and everybody being crooked.

The anthology was published in the fifties and many of the poems were written before then. As a result some of the poetry is a little dated, but most of it travels well and children can easily relate to poems that are nonsensical or about subjects they recognise, like animals, or houses, or painting for instance. I think most children would find the poems great fun and an easy introduction to poetry, especially poetry that they can read by themselves over and over again. I love this anthology and rate it up there with my beloved Winnie The Pooh! If you find a copy, grab it!

Susie 6/1/08

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