Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 12, 2010

Uh, oh: Poetry

My children’s literature class recently read Alice in Wonderland, then Winnie-the-Pooh. The books don’t have that much in common, though both are written mostly in prose, with a few poems inserted here and there.

Many of poems in Alice in Wonderland can stand alone and often do. Jabberwocky, The Walrus and the Carpenter and other nonsense poems and parodies often appear in anthologies, and perhaps help make Alice in Wonderland the most quoted book, or so I’ve read, after Shakespeare and the Bible.

The poems in Winnie-the-Pooh are mostly composed by the “bear of little brain,” and some students thought they showed the best of his otherwise not terribly apparent intellectual life. These are often songs to accompany his daily life, and composed of what concerns him: honey, balloons, bumbling. Some of the better poetry might come to us by way of prose, such as we hear in the music of the first line: “Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.” Or when A.A. Milne stacks up words: “He climbed and he climbed and he climbed…” with each word given its own line in the shape of a tall tree as Pooh ventures up for honey.

Winnie-the-Pooh is featured as the real poet, and while some of his friends listen good-naturedly, say at a party, poets are shown as people you might cross a street to avoid. Pooh approaches Kanga and asks, “I don’t know if you are interested in Poetry at all?”

“Hardly at all,” said Kanga.

“Oh!” said Pooh.

He tries again, but Kanga turns her back to tend to Roo.

Alice is, perhaps, slightly more open when Tweedledee asks if she likes poetry.

“Ye-es, pretty well –some poetry,” Alice said doubtfully. “Would you tell me which road leads out of the woods?”

Of course she’s had her difficult encounters with poetry before, with lines transforming as they leave her mouth. How doth the little busy bee… changes to crocodile and “You are old Father William” turns to parody. So much scrambles or seems impossible to understand, which is not my favorite kind of poetry either. In Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty says, “I can repeat poetry as well as the next folk, if it comes to that –“

“Oh, it needn’t come to that!” Alice hastily said.

I’m not sure what to make of these children literature heroes who flee from verse. It kind of made me laugh, but in that uneasy way.

Would you like to listen to a poem?

Hey, where’d you go?

For a roundup of Poetry Friday posts, please visit:



  1. What an adorable post! Interesting point, too, about these characters “fleeing from verse.” Not me. I wouldn’t turn my back on Pooh. 🙂

  2. I think Alice didn’t really disdain poetry; she was just leery of being delayed by yet another long poetic recital.

  3. I agree with this assessment. 🙂

  4. I know you would never turn from Pooh and his dear poems! One of the many things I like about you, Jama.

  5. I’ll buy that. Thanks for writing!

  6. A time and a place for poetry, yes?

  7. I never really thought about this before, esp the Winnie-the-Pooh poetry angle. Hmm, not sure what it means but I think it’s very cool you and your students discussed all that.
    And now I’m off to sing “I’m just a little black rain cloud, hovering under the honey tree.”

  8. Yes. Which is probably not when you’re trying to put some distance between yourself and some rather eccentric personalities.

  9. What an insightful post. It is true that poets can live in their own little world which can alienate others.
    I try never to leave the bathroom dragging a sheet of poetry stuck to the heel of my shoe.
    Laura Evans

  10. from Laura @AuthorAmok
    That’s such a funny, honest scene in Alice. I like to drive my kids crazy singing “Beautiful Soup.”

  11. Of course I’m with Jama: I would not want to turn my back on Winnie-the-Pooh.
    But I agree it’s good policy to check for poetry dragging from your shoe.
    Thank you for making me smile!

  12. Re: from Laura @AuthorAmok
    Ah, the pleasure of driving one’s children crazy. Thank you for coming by, Laura.

  13. Funny!
    I’d love to listen to a poem! Where did you go?

  14. Re: Funny!
    I love that I know people like you, and would follow you anywhere.

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