Monday, July 5, 2010

Tuesday Poem: A Parental Ode to my Son, Aged 3 Years and 5 Months

Gentle reader – that Victorian phrase when the author intrudes – you may wonder at my choice for the Tuesday poem. It even surprises me. Up till now I had only ever read one of Thomas Hood’s poems – the widely anthologised ‘Song of the Shirt, an attack upon the industrial conditions of seamstresses. But the Guardian selected this poem for its weekly poem. Victorian writing was not all serious earnestness. And I like exploring our literary heritage.

The poem appealed. It’s language dates it but the theme is universal. Pride in the infant and irritation at his behavior jostle for attention. Of course , its patriarchal. It’s its period. But I can imagine cave man snarling at his mate to get that child out of his hair and away from the flint he is sharpening. It’s also parental, that mate may’ve snapped at him not to let the child too close to the fire. Anyway here it is. Enjoy.


Thou happy, happy elf!
(But stop, - first let me - kiss away that tear-)
Thou tiny image of myself!
(My love, he's poking peas into his ear!)
Thou merry, laughing sprite!
With spirits feather-light,
Untouched by sorrow, and unsoiled by sin;
(Good Heavens! the child is swallowing a pin!)

Thou little tricksy Puck!
With antic toys so funnily bestuck,
Light as the singing bird that wings the air;
(The door! the door! he'll tumble down the stair!)
Thou darling of thy sire!
(Why, Jane, he'll set his pinafore afire!)
Thou imp of mirth and joy!
In love's dear chain, so strong and bright a link,
Thou idol of thy parents; (Drat the boy!
There goes my ink!)

Thou cherub-but of earth;
Fit playfellow for Fays, by moonlight pale,
In harmless sport and myrth,
(That dog will bite him if he pulls its tail!)
Thou human hummingbee, extracting honey
From every blossom in the world that blows,
Singing in youth's elysium ever sunny,
(Another tumble!-that's his precious nose!)

Thy father's pride and hope!
(He'll break the mirror with that skipping-rope!)
With pure heart newly stamped from Nature's mint;
(Where did he learn that squint!)
Thou young domestic dove!
(He'll have that jug off with another shove!)
Dear nursling of the Hymeneal nest!
(Are those torn clothes his best?)
Little epitome of man!
(He'll climb upon the table, that's his plan!)
Touched with the beauteous tints of dawning life
(He's got a knife!)

Thou enviable being!
No storms, no clouds, in thy blue sky foreseeing,
Play on, play on,
My elfin John!
Toss the light ball-bestride the stick-
(I knew so many cakes would make him sick!)
With fancies, buoyant as the thistle-down,
Prompting the face grotesque, and antic brisk,
With many a lamb-like frisk,
(He's got the scissors, snipping at your gown!)

Thou pretty opening rose!
(Go to your mother, child, and wipe your nose!)
Balmy and breathing music like the South,
(He really brings my heart into my mouth!)
Fresh as the morn, and brilliant as its star,
(I wish that window had an iron bar!)
Bold as the hawk, yet gentle as the dove;
(I'll tell you what, my love,
I cannot write unless he's sent above!)

Thomas Hood

The Tuesday Poem website is


  1. I loved this, Harvey - thanks very much for posting an old and forgotten friend. Belinda

  2. I began unsure and pretty quickly was convinced. The language tugs you on - such energy and such pure joy! the poem is light with it - and then the delightful almost comic way it is tugged down to earth by anxiety and irritation. Thanks Harvey.

  3. A real gem. I haven't come across this poem before (or the poet for that matter). I love how the poem addresses that irritation mixed with fondness we all feel when in the company of little children - especially when trying to write!

  4. Oh, my comment didn't show up. Here we go again... At first I wasn't convinced Harvey - but was quickly drawn in - the language flies - it's feather-light, joyful - and the comic asides are wonderfully grounding- Thank you.