Guest poem submitted by Reed C Bowman Well, the appearance of another Milne poem gives me a perfect chance to submit this, which I have been wanting to send in since I first found it was not on the site. I would like to submit Robert Graves'
(Poem #564) Warning to Children
Children, if you dare to think Of the greatness, rareness, muchness Fewness of this precious only Endless world in which you say You live, you think of things like this: Blocks of slate enclosing dappled Red and green, enclosing tawny Yellow nets, enclosing white And black acres of dominoes, Where a neat brown paper parcel Tempts you to untie the string. In the parcel a small island, On the island a large tree, On the tree a husky fruit. Strip the husk and pare the rind off: In the kernel you will see Blocks of slate enclosed by dappled Red and green, enclosed by tawny Yellow nets, enclosed by white And black acres of dominoes, Where the same brown paper parcel - Children, leave the string alone! For who dares undo the parcel Finds himself at once inside it, On the island, in the fruit, Blocks of slate about his head, Finds himself enclosed by dappled Green and red, enclosed by yellow Tawny nets, enclosed by black And white acres of dominoes, With the same brown paper parcel Still untied upon his knee. And, if he then should dare to think Of the fewness, muchness, rareness, Greatness of this endless only Precious world in which he says he lives - he then unties the string.
My father introduced me to this poem, as one of his favorites. It captured me by its imagery out of dreams (or hallucinations - Graves was not averse to the occasional psychotropic), rendered the more vivid and ensorceling by the strong meter and (almost) repetition. Some years ago I decided to try to memorize it, and found it difficult, because of the slight changes with each recurrence of the cycle. Then I wrote it out, and found I understood it better and could memorize it. There is nothing like slow and careful calligraphy, I find, to make one pay attention to every nuance of every word (and indeed letter) - the only thing that comes close is setting type by hand ... but not that many of us do that sort of thing, more's the pity. The poem's structure is intricate and, involving as it does the concept of infinite regress, it is self-referential. The reversal of "enclosing" to "enclosed by" allows the poet to escape from the infinite regress, even while involving the daring child more directly in the visual and tactile maelstrom. At the end, of course, the outcome is a vindication and validation of curiosity and daring to think. The Yellow Submarinesque enfoldings of the package, island, and child stand for the wonders, the wonder of the world as seen by the inquisitive mind and eye. And that is the real reason the poem should be read by and to children. One last note: I find, when I read this poem aloud (almost all poems should be read aloud) or recite it, that the first string of adjectives "the greatness, rareness, muchness,/Fewness of this precious only/ Endless world..." reads with "only" somehow qualifying "endless", or being almost a mere conjunction. In the second instance, I find myself reading it with equal weight and space to the adjectives around it, as if it were commaed off and part of the list: "this Endless, Only, Precious world." I suppose that's going a bit against Graves' instructions (a.k.a. his punctuation) but I find the reading powerfully suggests itself. Reed [I've added in a few links - martin] We've run several of Graves' poems before; there's a biography at poem #55 Another dizzingly Escherian poem is Kreymborg's 'Geometry': poem #306 The Milne poem referred to is the recently run poem #562 Also, the mention of Milne in conjunction with today's poem reminds me of one of my favourite verse fragments from his work: I think I am a Traveller escaping from a Bear I think I am an Elephant Behind another Elephant Behind *another* Elephant who isn't really there... - A. A. Milne, from 'Busy' martin