REVIEW of REVIEWS

Would Revise Kiddies’ Muse

Songs of Childhood Newly Sung by the sage of McGill University.

STEPHEN LEACOCK September 1 1927
REVIEW of REVIEWS

Would Revise Kiddies’ Muse

Songs of Childhood Newly Sung by the sage of McGill University.

STEPHEN LEACOCK September 1 1927

Would Revise Kiddies’ Muse

REVIEW of REVIEWS

Songs of Childhood Newly Sung by the sage of McGill University.

STEPHEN LEACOCK

IT HAS occurred to me that many of those beautiful old poems on which the present and preceding generations were brought up are in danger of passing into oblivion. The circumstances of this hurried, rapid age, crowded with mechanical devices, are rendering the older poetry quite unintelligible to the children of to-day.’ So writes Stephen Leacock in Harper's Magazine, and he proceeds to present a few examples of ancient verse transformed and adjusted to meet the requirements of the present day and understanding.

‘There was when I was young,’ he writes, a poem that everybody knew and loved that ran:

‘I remember, I remember The house where I was born And the little windows where the sun Came peeping in at morn.

Etc., etc., etc. . . .

‘I needn’t quote the rest of it. The essential thought is in the lines above. But alas! The poem is dropping out: it no longer fits. Here, however, is a revised version that may keep it going for years:

‘I wish I could remember The house where I was born And the little window where perhaps The sun peeped in at morn.

But father can’t remember

And mother can’t recall

Where they lived in that December—

If it was a house at all.

It may have been a boarding house Or family hotel,

A flat or else a tenement,

It’s very hard to tell.

There is only one thing certain from my questioning as yet,

Wherever I was born it was a matter of regret.

‘That I think reproduces more or less the spirit of the age. If someone would just put it into really good up-to-date poetry—without any rhyme in it, and with no marks of feet in it and without putting it into lines—it might go into any present-day anthology.

But let me, in my own halting and imperfect way, try another one. There used to be—either for recitation or for singing—a very pathetic poem about a

little girl begging her father to “come home.” The opening stanza ran:

‘Father, dear father, come home with me now,

The clock in the steeple strikes one;

You promised, dear father, that you would come home

As soon as your day’s work was done.

‘The scene, of course, was laid on the other side of the Eighteenth Amendment. The picture that went with the song showed, from the outside, a little tavern, or saloon, with curtained windows and a warm red light behind them. Out in the snow was the girl, singing. And father was in behind the red curtains. And he wouldn’t come out! That was the plot. Father’s idea was that he would stay right where he was—that it had Home beaten four ways.

‘Now all of that is changed. The little lighted tavern is gone. Father stays at home, and the children of to-day have got to have the poem recast, so as to keep as much of the pathos as may be, but with the scene reversed. Here it is, incomplete, perhaps, but suggestive:

Father, Dear Father, Go Out

‘Oh, father, dear father, why won’t you go out?

Why sit here and spoil all the fun? We took it for granted you’d beat it downtown

As soon as your dinner was done.

With you in the parlor the boys are so glum—

No games and no laughter about.

Oh, father, you put the whole house on the bum,

Dear father, please, father, go out.

‘In some cases our old once-favorite poems are based on the existence of institutions which are passing away and which are scarcely known to the children of to-day. A case in point is Longfellow’s “Village Blacksmith.” In this the poet tells us that under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands, and adds that the children love to look in at the door and catch the sparks by the hatful.

‘All this, I fear, must be altered from top to bottom. There is no smithy now, and no horses to be shod, and no sparks, and many children don’t ever wear hats. Even the old-fashioned sing-song rhyme gets tiresome to a modern ear. The whole poem must be recast to suit the times. I should propose putting it into what is called free verse, something as follows:

The Main Street Garage

‘On the corner of the main street stands the principal garage.

The garage man is a man of singular muscular development.

Children coming home from school like to watch him punch the gasoline.

On Sunday he goes to the church whenever any of the cars of the congregation break down.

In this way he not only earns a night’s repose but even now and then he can take a trip to New York, and go without repose for a whole night.’