Today is our first national Poem in Your Pocket Day! Everyone is encouraged to carry a poem around and share it freely at every opportunity.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to decide what poem to choose. Something by my favorite poet, E. E. Cummings? Or the "Cloths of Heaven," by Yeats, which I memorized a few years ago, and recite whenever I feel discouraged?
I would love to carry around Wordsworth’s "Ode: Intimations from Recollections of Early Childhood," but I would need a much larger pocket for that. Anything by Hopkins would be hard to contain until I was ready to share it. I could carry around a Dylan lyric, in honor of his Pulitzer last week. But I’d need his voice, and only his voice, to sing it. (Have you heard that "Forever Young" is going to be a Simon and Schuster picture book, and that recently he shared his meatball recipe on the radio? A man after my own heart!)
Early this morning, when I couldn’t sleep at around 3 a.m., it finally came to me — the first poem I really and truly loved, the first poem I read over and over, and memorized, and even acted out.
I found it in a book given to me one Christmas when I was 8 or 9 — you know, one of those hard-bound illustrated classics, which upon first glance, a child might wince at? My brother got Treasure Island that year, and I got A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I hadn’t read much poetry before that. So I was a little skeptical.
But one poem spoke to me:
by Robert Louis Stevenson (1913)
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow —
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
This was the perfect poem for a lonely, dreamy child. The last stanza always made me giggle because of its surprise. I never had an imaginary friend — at least a shadow was visible, some of the time. It was my playmate when my parents were at work, and my brother was busy with his own friends.
Stories, and poems like this one, are never too busy. They stay with you, no matter what. I wonder what the UPS man, the mailman, the clerk at Whole Foods, the librarian, our deer, birds, and other yard pets are going to say when I read my special poem to them today?
So, what poem are you carrying around?