December 14, 2007

Teaching The Heir The White Man's Burden

frissell_garden_verses.jpgI bought that 1944 Toni Frissell edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1885 classic, A Child's Garden of Verses I wrote about recently. It's pretty good, but not headsmackingly great; Frissell's photos are a nice change from cutesy pastel drawings, but they still have a little bit of the "darling kids calendar the life insurance agent sends you every year" vibe. It must be hard photographing kids for a living without going totally sappy or crazy.

Anyway, what the book IS good for is a glimpse back in time, a simpler time, when folks read poetry with their children. And by read, I mean had the nurse read, and by folks, I mean rich, seriously over-entitled white people. Here are a couple of awesome ones:

FOREIGN CHILDREN
Little Indian, Sioux or Crow,
Little frosty Eskimo,
Little Turk or Japanese,
Oh! don't you wish that you were me?

You have seen the scarlet trees
and the lions over seas;
You have eaten ostrich eggs,
And turned the turtles off their legs.

Such a life is very fine,
But it's not so nice as mine;
You must often, as you trod,
Have wearies not to be abroad.

You have curious things to eat,
I am fed on proper meat;
You must dwell beyond the foam;
But I am safe and live at home.

Little Indian, Sioux or Crow,
Little frosty Eskimo,
Little Turk or Japanese,
Oh! don't you wish that you were me?


SYSTEM
Every night my prayers I say,
And get my dinner every day;
And every day that I've been good,
I get an orange after food.

The child that is not clean and neat,
With lots of toys and things to eat,
He is a naughty child, I'm sure--
Or else his dear papa is poor.

Actually, I think these are still both taught on the Upper East Side...

Buy Frissell/Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses and stuff at Amazon [amazon]
Poor and/or cheap? Get the full text of A Children's Garden of Verses at Project Gutenberg [gutenberg.org]

Previously: Toni Frissell's photographic children's books

5 Comments

Oh Lordy. I had that book when I was small (a version with pastel illustrations, that is). I don't remember either of those poems--they either made no impression, or my book was abridged. I mainly remember wondering what a "counterpane" was.

You did get me thinking about including poetry in my son's reading material, though.

[a bedspread. I had to look it up. -ed.]

It's never too early to teach them the wonder and joy of cultural imperialism!

(By the way, it's funny how seeing the phrase "the white man's burden" now makes one think about how much the US government owes the rest of the world on its massive debt...)

"It must be hard photographing kids for a living without going totally sappy or crazy."

I don't know whether you'd consider Sally Mann crazy, but her photographs of children are certainly not sappy.

[good point, though I think she's more a self-aware romantic. -ed.]

"White Man's Burden" makes me think of the Goon Show episode named, not surprisingly, "Insurance-the White Man's Burden." And if you want to read a script of the radio show that was so great it's still good just in print, go here: Goon Show Script. Mind you, it's even funnier when you can hear the voices...

As for the book, I think I had that very version, but I sure don't remember those poems. Maybe Mom was editing?


[I know dad is. -ed.]

back in 1999, the anomoanon (will oldham's brother ned's band) released a great record putting 23 of those verses to music, including system. I love the album---let me know and I'll send you some of the mp3s (be warned: ned sings much like will).

[You mean Will, who guest starred on Wonder Showzen? Sometimes I feel these disparate worlds are all collapsing into one. So yeah, by all means, send a couple of mp3's along. Hmm. looking around, it seems they also did an album of Mother Goose rhymes, too. -ed.]

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