Best Books: Milne poetry

When We Were Very Young coverThe next work in my list of books everyone ought to read is “either When We Were Very Young or Now We Are Six,” two books of verse, by A. A. Milne.

The two criteria I’ve used for developing my list are “edification and enjoyment,” that books should “teach and delight.” Some books have come down heavily on the “edification” side; this entry is the reverse of that, being sparklingly delightful but less “weighty,” so I will argue less strenuously that everyone ought to read Milne’s poetry, though that enjoyment is not the only reason.

Still, the poetry is delightful, and that is the chief reason that I recommend these books. Milne’s verse in these two thin volumes is the sort of poetry that is written for children especially to like, with strong rhythms and rhymes, occasional tongue-twisters, and much humor—but unlike the sense I get of most of what is produced for that audience today, it is also poetry that an adult may like just as much, and even wish to memorize. And there is variety of both subjects and form, so while every poem is recognizably Milne, no two are quite alike.

Now We Are Six coverI could go on an on about how delightful Milne’s verse is. But that’s something of a matter of taste, and it’s only half of the reasoning for any book on my list.

The “edification” part of my reasons for recommending Milne’s poetry so highly rests primarily, but not entirely, on the matter of “cultural literacy.” Milne is one of the many authors I consider anyone poorer to not have read. I could have chosen Winnie-the-Pooh—and indeed The House at Pooh Corner is in the fourth part of the list—but most of my readers probably already have some sense (accurate or not) of “the story of Winnie-the-Pooh” due to either the Walt Disney Corporation or Milne himself. And further, as an introduction to Milne, I think a short collection of poems is arguably better than a longer prose book.

And then there are the gems scattered throughout these two volumes that I (and perhaps others) am likely to allude to without thinking about whether whoever I am conversing with has read the poem: “Nobody … could call me a fussy man,” for example. (One poem, “Buttercup Days,” also served as the inspiration for my own “Walk through the buttercups”.)

In any case, these poems are well worth reading, delightful and satisfying, and still worth their place in my list.

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