Sunday, November 10, 2013

Illustration of A. A. Milne's "Vespers" by E. H. Shepard (1879-1976)

A Most Touching Relic 
from a Regrettably Bygone Era


Gracie Fields, ne Grace Stansfield, (1898 - 1979), was an English actress, singer and comedienne, a star of music hall, cinema, radio and recordings.  Beloved by the British public, she became affectionately known as “Our Gracie,” and did much to boost morale during the Second World War, traveling far and wide at considerable risk, and great personal inconvenience to entertain the troops. Largely because of this she was regarded as a national treasure, and was made a Dame of the British Empire in recognition of her service. Gracie kept performing till virtually the end of her days, and was still singing as well as ever at the age of eighty.

The following poem by A. A. Milne, sung here by Gracie Fields, was so loved it was made part of the Library of the Queen’s Doll House. When it was published as part of When We Were Very Young, the author made a note in the Index acknowledging that it was printed there by “special permission.” The music was composed by Harold Fraser Simpson, whose name Alas! has been all-but forgotten..


VESPERS

Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.


God bless Mummy. I know that's right.
Wasn't it fun in the bath tonight?
The cold's so cold, and the hot's so hot.
Oh!
God bless Daddy - I quite forgot.


If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny's dressing gown on the door.
It's a beautiful blue, but it hasn't a hood.

Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good.


Mine has a hood, and I lie in bed,
And pull the hood right over my head,
And I shut my eyes and I curl up small,
And nobody knows that I'm there at all.


Oh! Thank you, God, for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say?
I said, "Bless Daddy," so what can it be?
Oh! Now I remember.
God bless me!


Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

~ A. A. Milne (1882-1956)

12 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this post. I remember reading Christopher Robbins poems to my children when they were very young.

    Nice memories.

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  2. Faith like a child's opens the door to the Kingdom of God.

    A wonderful Sunday post, FT. Thank you.

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  3. I'm glad both of you enjoyed it. We've journeyed very far away from the sweet, innocent, affectionate fantasies, and beguiling adventures of Hans Christian Andersen, A. A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame, Thornnton W. Burgess, Beatrice Potter, Maurice Maeterlinck, Howard R. Garris, and the like.

    I ran across this touching performance by Gracie Fields while wandering around YouTube, and listened to it just out of curiosity. I was amazed at all the tender memories it brought back all in a rush.

    I'm glad someone appreciates it. As long as there are even just a few people who love and remember these things, and still take time to share them with children, that gentle, whimsical kind-hearted world where love, courage, loyalty and goodness always win in the end will never be completely lost.

    It is not childish to long for that world, cherish its memory, and want to share its wholesome, joyous, adventurous spirit with our children and grandchildren.

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  4. A A Milne is wonderful. I recommend re-reading Winnie the Pooh, it has surprising depth. :)

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  5. Jez,
    Yes, Winnie the Pooh is a wonderful book. I prefer it to Charlotte's Web.

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  6. I think you are right, Jez. There's a subtle aura of benignity, affection and gentle excitement and adventure in these books that teaches without preaching, or directly instructing.

    I believe very strongly in the influences of tone, mood, character and atmosphere. Some would call it SPIRIT -- a word grown sadly out of fashion.

    I have grave doubts, however, about the value of didacticism and rote learning, although a certain amount is doubtless necessary. We must know our ABC's, our number facts, and some basic dates to help give us a sense of historical perspective, for instance.

    Nevertheless, contrary to the conventional wisdom dismissing poetry and fantasy as poppycock, I see more truth and wisdom in poetry, good fiction, and great music than I do in mere factual knowledge.

    Are you aware of a book called Pipers at the Gates of Dawn? The title, as you may recognize, is a line taken from Wind in the Willows. The book, which came out in the 1980's, I believe, makes a good attempt to give a sympathetic analysis of some of the best known examples of children's literature. I'm sorry I can't remember the author's name.

    Perhaps AOW knows more about it than I? -- that's very likely I imagine. ;-)

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  7. FT,
    Sorry, I'm not familiar with that one.

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  8. Well, we're even then, AOW. I'm not familiar with Charlotte's Web, and have always felt I've been derelict in my duty to myself to remain so.

    HOWEVER< when it comes o children's literature, I regret my failure to mention C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia in the list above.

    I came to C.S. Lewis as an adult via The Screwtape Letters, and then found Narnia as enchanting -- and probably more meaningful -- than I would have if I'd known it in childhood.

    I often reread favorite tales by Hans Christian Andersen, and find them entirely appropriate for adults as well as children, but I am particularly grateful to my parents for reading these to me as bedtime from my days in the crib till I reached the point where I preferred to read them on my own -- probably around age nine.

    Readings from Dickens if done well - my dear father was undoubtedly the greatest Scrooge who ever read the famous words aloud ;-) -- are wonderful material for even very young children.

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  9. Little boy reels as he gets out of bed
    Trips in the hallway and falls on his head
    Shut up! Nobody cares.
    Christopher Robin just fell down the stairs.

    That was what Christopher Hitchens, one of your crazy leftist heroes, thought of this mawkish piece of trash.

    Aunty Maim

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  10. FT,
    There are so many gems in children's literature, and many of those gems, as you pointed out, are appropriate to read later in life. Insights change, but the simplicity of some of the masterpieces of children's literature brings joy at all stages in life.

    As for Dickens, it is my view that his works are best appreciated if read aloud. Such charm in that kind of reading.

    Alas! We live in the age of television, which has ruined so many who could have become avid readers (and listeners to real literature).

    I have lately availed myself of several books on audio CD. I had already read many of these books. But hearing them read aloud, particularly by a good reader -- a wonderful experience!

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  11. "I have grave doubts, however, about the value of didacticism and rote learning"

    It can be good exercise. I think I'm rather in favour of eg. committing poems to memory, for that and other reasons. Where do you stand on that issue? It's the sort of thing that a Tory education minister might be mocked for being in favour of.

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  12. Hi, Jez,

    You raise a very good point. Committing significant words to memory has tremendous value.

    When we are children, the significance of these words is rarely apparent, and we may regard the exercise of drilling famous passage from the Bible, Shakespeare, et al into our little skulls as an unwanted burden -- an imposition on our time.

    Rote memorization fell into disfavor even as far back as my generation. Teachers eschewed the importance of remembering dates and lots of dry data in favor of learning the "essence" and the "nuances" in various phenomena.

    While I remain very much in favor of trying to understand "essences," "nuances," and "unstated implications," I have come to see that I am the poorer for their so-called "progressive" policies. I have tried to make up for this laxity in latter years, but still consider my education to be incomplete.

    What may have "saved" me, if I am, indeed, "saved," which may be dubious ;-) was making a serious study of the piano and its literature, where memorization of complex, extended works was required.

    HOWEVER, I would emphasize to you and others that merely knowing all the words -- or the notes -- or the "facts" -- is only the very BEGINNING of developing any real understanding of anything. Musical notation without personal interpretation provides little or no "cultural enrichment." I believe it to be the same in all other fields.

    What "progressive" thinking in education has done is to rob us of the BASIS for becoming truly educated. It appears to have "thrown out the baby with the bathwater."

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