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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Stevie Smith: To Carry the Child


Girl next to barn with chicken: photographer unknown, between 1941 and 1942 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

To carry the child into adult life
Is good? I say it is not,
To carry the child into adult life
Is to be handicapped.

The child in adult life is defenceless
And if he is grown-up, knows it,
And the grown-up looks at the childish part
And despises it.

The child, too, despises the clever grown-up,
The man-of-the-world, the frozen,
For the child has the tears alive on his cheek
And the man has none of them.

As the child has colours, and the man sees no
Colours or anything,
Being easy only in things of the mind,
The child is easy in feeling.

Easy in feeling, easily excessive
And in excess powerful,
For instance, if you do not speak to the child
He will make trouble.

You would say a man had the upper hand
Of the child, if a child survive,
I say the child has fingers of strength
To strangle the man alive.

Oh it is not happy, it is never happy,
To carry the child into adulthood,
Let children lie down before full growth
And die in their infanthood
And be guilty of no man's blood.

But oh the poor child, the poor child, what can he do,
Trapped in a grown-up carapace,
But peer outside of his prison room
With the eye of an anarchist?

Girl with doll standing by fence: photographer unknown, between 1941 and 1942 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

Stevie Smith: To Carry the Child, from The Best Beast, 1969


Nin Andrews said...

I love this! And that photo of the girl with the doll!

TC said...

Thanks Nin.

Yes, thinking about that picture for years now, it's always brought to mind Stevie's great poem. The child "carrying the child"... almost a speeded-up movie version of the entirety of life.

Artemesia said...

Wondeful poem!

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Another super poem by Stevie. What it says puts one in the mind of Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience", does it not?

TC said...


Many thanks. Whenever a poem hears from you, I know it's doing something right.


That's a very useful point of contact. The lyric, with its deceptive simplicity, its way of drowning the personal in something "larger" -- may we call it the expression of a collective voice? -- has been shoved to the wayside in recent re-doings of poetic history and canon-re-formations. Perhaps it's the modesty, the ego-lessness, that bothers people. But yes, to sense in these two great poets an affinity of spirit (ah, another currently proscribed term!) helps us to better understand and appreciate both, and to deepen our experience of and meditation upon their great gifts.

To be "child-like" and to be "wise", in the same moment -- surely this way of fathoming the unfathomable, accepting and embracing the mystery, is something rare, beyond method, shared across the span of a century by these two wonderful poets.

How fortunate we are to have them to turn to. In -- dare I suggest -- a time which perhaps scarcely deserves the wonders they have to offer?

So light, yet with an ability to lift us up, out of the weight of being human, that, one might wish to say, almost defies gravity.

Miraculous is the word that springs to mind, in both cases.

The Fly

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

child like

paper snow

flakes open

eyes wonder

(one written so many years ago)

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

What wonderful "proscribed" connections - great Smith and a fine flashback to "The Fly" - oh, yes, it is just so amazing how many different contexts we may see these great works in -

And, though the connection via Smith and Blake is lost, still I couldn't resist these, because it seems to me both Jack and Issa are thinking of humans:

In my medicine cabinet,
the winter fly
has died of old age.

Jack Kerouac

Don't kill that fly!
Look--it's wringing its hands,
wringing its feet.


It is the compassion of both writers that touches deeply here.

TC said...


Oh Jack's medicine cabinet fly -- the American-instant answer to Proust's memory-fortune-cookie in a tea-saucer.

TC said...


That lovely little open-eyed moment of awe before a snow flake may have been writ long ago, but I can feel it fluttering down and touching the tip of my nose... and dripping... so that I can taste it -- in this moment, now.

Anonymous said...

touching...beautiful ...!!