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Kate Sidley

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Poems to take down to the sea

In addition to the stack of yet-to-be-read books or a fully loaded e-reader, it’s always good to reread and enjoy, once again, some of the holiday classics.

There are some lovely poems if you are off to the sea. When foraging for mussels on the rocks, I like to recite chunks of The Walrus and the Carpenter in which they trick the oysters into accompanying them on a beach walk, and then eat them with bread and butter.

You’ll find it in Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Caroll, where you will also find Jabberwocky, another fine poem for recitation, but not especially holidayish.

My very favourite beach poem is maggie and milly and molly and may, by e.e. cummings (who should be read regularly, in my view). The four girls go down to the beach to play and find items that reflect themselves. It ends:

“…may came home with a smooth round stone/as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)/it’s always ourselves we find in the sea”

For Christmas-themed reading there’s of course Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and Seuss’s ever-popular Grinch, and for delicious Christmas sentimentality, you can’t do better than O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. It’s the story of a young, newly married couple who have no money to buy each other Christmas gifts.

Each, independently, makes an act of selfless sacrifice, in order to buy the loved one the gift he/she deserves. There’s an ironic twist (Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t read the story and don’t want to know the twist, skip to the next para) – he sells his only possession, his heirloom pocket watch, to buy a tortoiseshell comb for her magnificent long hair; she sells her long hair to buy a chain for his pocket watch. As she no longer has the hair and he no longer has the pocket watch, both gifts are useless.

Another delightful piece of Christmas literature is King John’s Christmas, AA Milne’s poem in which, you may remember: “King John was not a good man/he had his little ways/and sometimes no one spoke to him/for days and days and days”.

Naturally, Christmas is a particularly trying time: “And round about December/ The cards upon his shelf/Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer/And fortune in the coming year/Were never from his near and dear/But only from himself.”

King John has slim hopes for his list of desired Christmas gifts – crackers and candy, nuts and a pocket knife. “And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all, bring me a big, red India-rubber ball!” Nonetheless he hangs “a hopeful stocking out” and in the spirit of the season, gets at least one of his Christmas wishes. The reader is moved to join the narrator in his sentiments: “And Oh Father Christmas, my blessings on you fall, for bringing him a big red India-rubber ball…”

King John gets more than he deserves, not being a good man, which seems to me the very heart of generosity and in keeping with the Christmas spirit. Also, I like to imagine that, his modest wish granted, and an example of generosity and forgiveness before him, he might be a nicer person and perhaps make a friend or two to share the eggnog with next Christmas.

We can hope for the same – understanding and indulgence of our faults, and undeservedly generous responses from our loved ones.

With that in mind, I remain cautiously optimistic about my Christmas list, which includes World Peace and an iPad.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times Books Columnist

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