Transforming the Quotidian

More often than not, a child’s first exposure to poetry is through nursery rhymes and Mother Goose. As we observe the final Sunday of National Poetry Month 2024, I wanted to recognize the role of nursery rhymes in providing a literary foundation for readers and poets everywhere.

Nursery rhymes are a rudimentary form of poetry. In general, children love the repetitious quality of simple verses. Twinkle, twinkle little starOne, Two, Buckle My ShoePat-a-Cake, Pat-a-Cake, Baker’s Man. The rhythms delight. The rhymes become fixed in memory. When there are numbers involved, the little ones learn basic counting.

Thinking about these early parent-child interactions today, I contemplated the function of poetry in general. One Pulitzer winning poet described some of the qualities she tries to achieve in her poetry:  “… to be intimate but restrained, tender without being sentimental.”

By Anonymous, 19th century – https://digital.library.mcgill.ca/chapbooks/pdfs/PN970_F6_M68_1860.pdf, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72825283

This prize-winning poet (Jhumpa Lahiri) mentions other qualities as well, but I wanted to focus on the two mentioned above. In my view, the elemental nature of parent-child interactions (especially during the early years) certainly includes intimate and tender aspects.

The images which come to my recall carry the sweetness of both, intimacy and tenderness – not always including, I admit, the restrained part, but wonderfully precious reminders nonetheless.

Whether I was reading to a son or daughter, a grandson or granddaughter, our reading time might include the intimacy of pre-sleep, quiet play … or it might be the launch pad for more rambunctious romps. Most parents would find a similar interaction to be commonplace.

Unfortunately, children who learn their nursery rhymes via a YouTube video (or some other digital device) will not enjoy the interactive delights of a parent’s lap or devoted attention. There’s a presumption we’ll all have tomorrow, then we can do those ordinary things – those quotidian things – we postponed today.

Seventy years ago this month, my baby sister was born. Though she died a mere fifteen months later, her presence (as absence) has always lingered along the periphery of my mind. It’s a curious weighty-ness I can’t pretend to understand, but I acknowledge it.

The sonnet below reflects my personal study of Romans 8. Rather than choose one or two specific verses, the entire chapter is a beautiful confirmation of trusting Jesus Christ even when the shadow of death hovers.

In Death, a sonnet

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