On Father’s Day, I was at my in-laws’ when someone suggested we all go to the park. Because most people were going to be swimming and I was not, and finding myself without my book (horrors!), I picked up a volume of Houseman poetry to read at the park.
My father-in-law, always generous with his books, said he had another volume of Houseman I could have, but he’d have to go find it. He couldn’t, but in the search, he came across another gem he pressed into my hands with the strict order that I was not to give it back to him.
I could see why: The dust jacket, even decades after it was printed, contained one of the most garish photos of roses I’d ever seen and, it was out-of-focus to boot. The title was “Best Loved Poems of All Time: Treasured Verses Everyone Enjoys.”
Well, not everyone, it would seem.
The dust jacket blurb in this little book printed by Hallmark (and costing $2.50 in its day) promised a “new collection of cherished masterpieces.”
My joy with the book came not with the verses that are “a permanent part of our heritage of expression,” but with my father-in-law’s comments in the margins.
They started in the table of contents where he wrote firm “no’s” next to “A Song from Sylvan” by Louise Imogen Guiney and “Outwitted” by Edwin Markham. There was a question mark next to Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” as though he was asking “really?”
Guiney’s poem is the first in the book. My father-in-law had penned a slash through its title and wrote “No (underline his). Trite, predictable rhymes, predictable thoughts, contrived sentence structure.” (I agreed with him after reading it: “The fears of what may come to pass,/I cast them all away,/Among the clover-scented grass,/Among the new-mown hay…” Blech.
Above Markham’s poem mentioned above was written “No. Forced. Not a poem” and above Frost’s “Dust of Snow” he scrawled “hardly a great or ‘best loved.'” He was similarly unimpressed with Carl Sandburg’s “Fog” above which he wrote “a bit slight for ‘best loved.'”
I’m not sure whether these comments were about the poems themselves or more about their inclusion in a compilation of “best loved” poems. Either way, they provided much entertainment.
Several poems were marked with an “x” which seemed to indicate his approval. These included Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!,” Blake’s “The Tiger,” McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” (my father-in-law has a special affinity for the poetry of World War I) and Leigh Hunt’s “Jenny Kiss’d Me,” one of my own favorites.
For educational purposes: Hunt was a British essayist, critic and poet who hung around Shelley and Keats, had 10 kids, lots of financial problems (probably because of those 10 kids), and died in 1859 at the ripe old age of 74. There’s more to him, obviously, but let’s get to the poem.
Jenny Kiss’d Me
Jenny Kiss’d me when we met,
jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health
and wealth have miss’d me.
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss’d me.