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Auntie's Skirts -- Robert Louis Stevenson

       
(Poem #450) Auntie's Skirts
  Whenever Auntie moves around,
  Her dresses make a curious sound,
  They trail behind her up the floor,
  And trundle after through the door.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
        (From 'A Child's Garden of Verses')

What childrens' poet has at some time or the other not succumbed to the
temptation to rhyme 'floor' and 'door'? :) Not that there's anything wrong
with that, of course - indeed, I consider this one of the 'successful' poems
in Stevenson's wildly diverse 'A Child's Garden of Verses'. True, it
presents no deep insight, no stunning revelation. However, it possesses that
rare and welcome quality of working on two entirely separate levels.

Firstly, it is clearly a childrens' poem. Is it a good childrens' poem? Yes
- the meter and rhyme fall very naturally into the sort of singsong chant
that the Very Young delight in repeating ad nauseum. Also the central image
*is* insightful from a child's perspective - I can imagine one reading the
poem and then keeping an eye out the next time he saw an aunt of his,
wondering if her dresses did indeed make a curious sound, or trail behind
her on the floor.

However, there is also a certain underscored pointlessness that appeals to
me on a far more 'sophisticated' level. The very lack of humour, imagery,
comparison, elaboration, surprise, and all the other techniques we expect in
a short poem - the sheer "take it or leave it" presentation of a single
fact, dissociated even from event-specificity by the enclosing 'whenever',
is a stylistic technique verging on imagism, and one that it not easy to get
right. Whatever one might say about Stevenson, there is no denying that he
had a wonderful feel for style and language.

Links:

Here are the other three Stevenson poems we've run in the past:
poem #20, poem #84, and poem #290.

-martin

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