Saturday, December 13, 2014

Poetry leads the way

"I have no patience with those who say that love and death are not proper subjects for children. Children can often respond to these large subjects with minds less coarsened and imaginations less infected than their print-sodden elders.

"It is largely in childhood, and largely through books, that we learn of attitudes to admire, which can then try out in real life--the heroic, the quixotic, the stoical, the impossibly magnanimous. It is not that we necessarily identify ourselves with every person in the poems or stories we read: but that we learn from them a language of feeling and enlarge our own vocabularies. And the attitudes which we finally choose will, whether consciously or not, affect our behavior all our lives.

"Poems can help us in this choice by showing us something of the variety of possible attitudes and moods. A child who has learnt that death can be looked at in more ways than one is better able to cope with a loss of his own than one who has only learned the stereotyped responses of the newspaper or cinema. Stereotyped emotion--which approximates all battles to Heroism, all love to Romance, all death to Tragedy, which cannot respond to irony or wit at all--is always something coarser than any individual is capable of feeling."

Janet Adam Smith, Introduction to The Faber Book of Children's Verse, 1953.

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