I wrote A Small Girl Swinging about twenty years ago and it found its way into a number of children's anthologies. It wasn't in fact written especially for children, but about childhood. There was a playground behind the garden where we lived. From upstairs we could just about see some of it so the children were allowed to play there, once they were old enough, provided there were other children about.
This is the poem:
A Small Girl Swinging
When first they pushed me
I was very scared.
My tummy jiggled. I was
The second time was higher
And my ears
Were cold of whisperings
Of tiny fears.
The third time it was HIGH,
My teeth on edge.
My heart leapt off the bedroom
The fourth time, Oh the fourth time
It was mad.
My skirt flew off the world
And I was glad.
No one's pushing now,
My ears are ringing.
Who'll see across the park
A small girl swinging?
Who'll hear across the park
Her mother calling,
And everywhere her shadows
A poem is a combination of complex feelings surfacing through language into form. The poet doesn't know all the feelings, only some of them, but can hear the faint white noise of echoes of meaning beyond.
In this poem, that I remember well, I was writing about my own sense of excitement and fear on a high swing (the teeth on edge were mine); the sensation of pushing one's own children on a swing, seeing their fear and excitement; and the concern for the child seen in a playground from an upstairs window. There was also the imagined fear of being abandoned by one's parents in a playground. You look down from the swing and they're gone! No longer pushing. The sense of excitement transfers into adulthood - I think this is unavoidable as the writer is an adult - and takes on a faint erotic edge (part of the white noise). I became aware of that as I wrote the verses, not before. Something heady about it all - as there is in swinging as a child too, of course. Being aware of it I did not think of it as a children's poem, as such. It reminded me of Blakes's Nurse's Songs. This from the Songs of Innocence:
When the voices of children are heard on the green,
And laughing is heard on the hill,
My heart is at rest within my breast,
And everything else is still.
"Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Come, come, leave off play, and let us away,
Till the morning appears in the skies."
"No, no, let us play, for it is yet day,
And we cannot go to sleep;
Besides, in the sky the little birds fly,
And the hills are all covered with sheep."
"Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,
And then go home to bed."
The little ones leaped, and shouted, and laughed,
And all the hills echoed.
and this from The Songs of Experience
When voices of children are heard on the green,
And whisperings are in the dale,
The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind,
My face turns green and pale.
Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down,
And the dews of night arise;
Your spring and your day are wasted in play,
And your winter and night in disguise.
I knew these poems very well and had also finished a small painting on board (I still have it, one of the few) with an inscription from the second poem, the first line, as in both poems. They were more than white noise in the head: they were a distinct shape.
My poem was in effect pitched between innocence and experience. One of the extraordinary qualities of Blake's best poetry is the ability to see extremes and set them glowing. Poetry for me has always been about complexity: the innocence and experience of language. That is what I wanted anyway, what I still want.
The reading above is for pronunciation only of course. It makes no attempt at interpretation and that in itself makes it interesting. The poem will be read by a young girl whose mother wrote to me asking for clues on speaking it.
I do, however, seem to hear the enunciation man saying 'shirt' instead of 'skirt'.