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Lullaby for a Baby Toad

Sleep, my child:
The dark dock leaf
Spreads a tent
To hide your grief.
The thing you saw
In the forest pool
When you bent to drink
In the evening cool
Was a mask that He,
The Wisest Toad,
Gave us to hide
Our precious load–
The jewel that shines
In the flat toad-head
With gracious sapphire
And changing red.

For if, my toadling,
Your face were fair
As the precious jewel
That glimmers there,
Man, the jealous,
Man, the cruel,
Would look at you
And suspect the jewel.

So dry the tears
From your horned eyes,
And eat your supper
Of dew and flies;
Curl in the shade
Of the nettles deep,
Think of your jewel
And go to sleep.

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Stella Dorothea Gibbons (1902 – 1989) was an English novelist, journalist, poet, and short-story writer.  Many of her poems, especially those regarding humankind’s seemingly inexhaustible addiction to ravaging nature, have a distinctly modern feel.  Hers is an exquisite, even painful, sensitivity to the soul of the natural world.  This poem appears in the author’s Collected Poems published in 1950.  I’m sure it has appeared in anthologies elsewhere, as I have it hand-copied out in a notebook I kept when my daughter was small . . . but I’ve not yet located the particular children’s book wherein I first found it.

A reader, Anthony Davis, has kindly advised me that this poem also appears in the anthology All Day Long, compiled, with an introduction and biographical notes, by Pamela Whitlock, published by Oxford University Press  (in 1954, originally).  I’ve book in hand now, the only circulating copy in Toronto’s large library system (one reference-only copy also exists herein).  What a treasure-trove this volume is!  Most every selection captivates and pleases, and surprisingly, nearly 60 years later, breathes with a very modern and accessible sensibility.  Whitlock, with sincere humility, insists that it is “only the beginning of an anthology”, and inspires the reader to continue on to “more comprehensive, more wisely  compiled volumes, and to each poet’s own works”, and finally, to begin to create “the only anthology that would have delight breaking out for you on every single page:  the one that you make for yourself…(which would be) a most marvellous book”.  Personally, I believe that there is no better way to become familiar with and grow to love a language and a literature than by unearthing its poetry for young and old.  Thank-you, Pamela Whitlock, and all publishers, collectors, readers, and creators of poems, life writ large.  And thanks again for the heads-up, Anthony.

_____________

Dock is a weedy herb whose leaves are popularly used to relieve nettle stings. Nettle is another herbaceous plant; its leaves are covered with stinging hairs; it’s been found, however, to be rich in vitamins and minerals.

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