There is no poetic influence that springs to mind more for the childhood years than the inimitable A.A. Milne. I had the rhymes read to me endlessly as a child; they were favourites of my father for their simplicity in their rhymes, and their humour, and their accessibility, however unlikely it might be that we end up curtseying in the company of the Queen.
“James James Morrison Morrison” so the story goes. What a good boy, what a normal boy; what a curious boy out to explore everything that any other child would want.
Or Ernest and the other of his friends, animals of familiar ilk: “Ernest was an elephant and very well-intentioned; Leonard was a lion with a brave new tail, George was a goat, as I think I have mentioned, But James was only a snail”. These creatures are individual, but singularly as important as others, in their daily, slight traipses across the scapes of the world.
Then there is the perplexity of not quite knowing where one is, exploring the parameters of a child’s day-to-day life: “Halfway down the stairs/ is a stair where I sit/ There isn’t any other stair quite like it…”. These are very simple and quiet steps that a young child takes every day as they learn about their immediate world.
Everything about these verses in their simplicity, their commonality and familiarity, make them appealing to a child.
And then there are those phrases that takes us back to earlier, quaint times; of a land far away from New Zealand life, but that of A.A Milne, as he speaks of London: “They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace – / Christopher Robin went down with Alice”…That is a refrain that all of us know today.
A. A. Milne today is immediately of a time past, of a land that most of us have never known, yet the influence of manners and curiosity is one that lingers. His rhymes and patterns are continually accessible, and his imagery and subjects within his poems are such that even as adults we welcome reciting them.
Jessie Neilson is a University of Otago library assistant and mother. She reviews regularly for the Otago Daily Times and Takahe and has a broad interest in matters literary.
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