A while back I was browsing the shelves of antiquarian books at Fair’s Fair on 9th Avenue, and ran across a beautiful set of books, The Works of Eugene Field. Two volumes particularly caught my eye, A Little Book of Profitable Tales and A Little Book of Western Verse, and I perused wonderful pieces such as “The First Christmas Tree”, “Winken Blinken and Nod” and “Little Boy Blue”.
These were only being sold as a set, and I wasn’t interested in paying the asking price of one hundred dollars, so I went home to see if I could find them in electronic form.
Sure enough, I could read some of A Little Book of Western Verse on the Internet Archive BookReader, and download many of Eugene Field’s beautiful works for free from Gutenberg.org. I have been reading Western Verse today on my Kindle.
How have I missed this author up until now? Eugene Field started publishing poetry in 1789. He wrote imaginative, gentle rhyming verses for children and adults, perfect for a peaceful bedtime read. “Mother and Child” is about a rose, falling in love with the dewdrop that lands on its petals. “The Divine Lullaby” is about hearing God’s voice in the ocean, the wind, snow and bells, saying “Sleep well, my child.”
This world needs these beautiful words, and I hope many rediscover Eugene Field’s remarkable talent. Here are a few lines from several more.
From “Winken, Blinken and Nod”, one of his most well-known works:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe —
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
From the peaceful poem “In the Firelight”:
The firelight shadows fluttering go.
And as the shadows round me creep,
A childish treble breaks the gloom,
And softly from a further room
Comes, “Now I lay me down to sleep.”
One of Field’s most well-known poems is “Little Boy Blue”, but it’s not the one that I learned as a child. Here is the first verse:
The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and stanch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
And his musket molds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new
And the soldier was passing fair,
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
Kissed them and put them there.
In “Christmas Treasure” a father asks his beloved little son what he would like from Santa Claus:
And then he named this little toy,
while in his round and mournful eyes
there came a look of sweet surprise,
that spake his quiet, trustful joy…
he lisped his evening prayer
…with childish grace;
Then, toddling to the chimney-place,
he hung this little stocking there.
From “Norse Lullaby”:
The sky is dark and the hills are white
As the storm-king speeds from the north to-night,
And this is the song the storm-king sings,
As over the world his cloak he flings:
“Sleep, sleep, little one, sleep;”
From “The Twenty-Third Psalm”:
My Shepherd is the Lord my God,—
There is no want I know;
His flock He leads in verdant meads,
Where tranquil waters flow.
This next one shares memories of a carefree childhood wandering among nature’s tranquil creatures and greenery, from “Long Ago”:
I once knew all the birds that came
And nested in our orchard trees;
For every flower I had a name—
My friends were woodchucks, toads, and bees;
I knew where thrived in yonder glen
What plants would soothe a stone-bruised toe—
Oh, I was very learned then;
But that was very long ago!
The love of a parent, from “Some Time”:
Last night, my darling, as you slept,
I thought I heard you sigh,
And to your little crib I crept,
And watched a space thereby;
And then I stooped and kissed your brow,
For oh! I love you so—
You are too young to know it now,
But some time you shall know!
Here is the sweetest little story poem of a father, finally resting with a book after a long day, from “At The Door”:
I thought myself indeed secure,
So fast the door, so firm the lock;
But, lo! he toddling comes to lure
My parent ear with timorous knock.
…then as the father takes his laughing darling in his arms, he ponders the end of his own life, when he is knocking on heaven’s gate. He hopes his heavenly father will unlock that door in the same way, and welcome him with the same joy!
And although not a lullaby, I had to include this humorous little ditty, from his poem “The Bibliomaniac’s Prayer”:
Keep me, I pray, in wisdom’s way
That I may truths eternal seek;
I need protecting care to-day,—
My purse is light, my flesh is weak…
Let my temptation be a book,
Which I shall purchase, hold, and keep,
Whereon when other men shall look,
They’ll wail to know I got it cheap.
(I guess that means I’m a bibliomaniac! Any others out there? You?)
Spending an hour reading his poetry was such a calming experience because Field’s word pictures take you into the sweet, quiet experiences he writes about. I will keep these handy for the end of a hectic day!
Thank you, Eugene Field!
[And thank you to these who generously provided images: TheVintagePrincipal for the image of The Works of Eugene Field, Keri S. Hathaway for the image of the statue , Wikimedia/Internet Archive Book Images for the image from The Golden Staircase-Poems and Verses for Children , Sue Clark on Flickr for the image of Teeny Weeny , and Wikimedia for the image of Eugene Field ]