Poetry Friday: The poems of Jean Little

I was in the library looking at poetry books for children when I stumbled on Jean Little‘s When the Pie was Opened (Little, Brown and Company, 1968).  Little, a Canadian,  is a well known author of children’s books but this was the first book I’d read by her.  What a delight and pleasure! Here was children’s poetry that spoke to my heart as a mother.  I’m not so sure my daughter would like this book, but sometimes there are childrens’ books that are really meant for their parents and this certainly felt like one of them.  All the attendant facets of good poetry are displayed in this collection — attention to details in the natural world through the seasons, deep self awareness and introspection, reflections on reading and books, and poems about poetry itself.  The rhyming quatrains of some poems and references to British classical tales of Robin Hood, Jane Eyre and Jane Austen date the poems somewhat, but there is a pleasurable breadth, spiritually and philosophically, to the poetry that make it seem timeless.  Take for example, the first two stanzas of “Tonight I Must Sing”

Tonight I must sing or sob.
Which will it be?
I am balanced between despair
And ecstasy.

Either will leave me hurt.
I shall be torn asunder.
By the tumult of this joy,
This wound of wonder.

I love the paradoxical and alliterative combination of ‘this wound of wonder!’  I think one of my favorite poems in the collection was “The Glory,” which in some way must be autobiographical as Little was diagnosed legally blind as a child. The poem is narrated by a timid child whose only sensation of light is from a candle lit in her room until the day she she is able to finally perceive the sun outside in all its shining glory.  Glory has been much on my mind lately –  a sermon at a recent funeral I attended spoke of glory as being of another dimension –  but in Little’s poem, the speaker understands that the relation between her candle and the glory of the sun is that “all God’s fire is one” for her “parents had simply set alight/[her] candle from their sun.”

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Jone at Check It Out.


4 Responses to “Poetry Friday: The poems of Jean Little”

  1. Margaret Ullrich Says:

    The glory of a flame is that it can be shared without being diminished.
    I am always moved by the sharing of the light part of the Holy Saturday service. The church is darkened and the priest lights the candles of the parishioners seated next to the center aisle whom he passes. The parishioners share the light with the others along the pew. By the time the priest is at the altar, the candles, including the priest’s, are all lit.
    Light is meant to be shared indeed.
    Are there any books similar to “When the Pie was Opened” published by a Canadian publisher?

  2. Beth Stilborn Says:

    I haven’t read this book of poems, but I love Jean Little’s books for kids. She is an excellent writer, one of my favorites. I highly recommend “From Anna” and “Listen for the Singing” for a start. Her two autobiographies, “Little by Little” and “Stars Come Out Within” are fantastic, too.

  3. Sally Says:

    Hi, Margaret, indeed the glory of a flame is that it can be shared without being diminished as you say! I don’t know if there are any more books similar to “When the Pie was Opened” by Canadian publishers although Jean Little has published a lot of other childrens’ books in Canada. I think I’ll get more books out by her. “From Anna” was recommended to me also, Beth, by another reader of this post so I might seek that one out next.

  4. Kathy Says:

    I love Jean, all her work is simply fantastic. She is phenomenal and i love reading her work to my kids, they love her as well ( :. Keep reading!