CHAPTER 2
Poetry

This chapter is intended as a concise overview of the development of verse for children since the late seventeenth century. The first problem to confront is the difficulty of determining what children’s poetry actually is. It is a problem that has defeated many poets and critics.1 Is it a question of subject matter? Or language, tone, form or style? Or is it a question of the audience that the poet intended to reach? If so, what about those poems that were written for adults, but have since become ‘anchored to the children’s verse tradition by a kind of gravitational pull’ as one recent anthologist puts it?2 Certainly, anthologies of children’s verse have always been full of poems that were originally intended for adults, like James Greenwood’s compilation The Virgin Muse (1722), designed for ‘young gentlemen and ladies’ but providing them with the work of Milton and Dryden. Indeed, some anthologies, like Coventry Patmore’s The Children’s Garland (1862), have made a boast of excluding any poem first written for children. And many children have enjoyed ‘adult verse’. Anne of Green Gables, for instance, particularly loved ‘poetry that gives you a crinkly feeling up and down your back’ by eighteenthcentury poets now read by few adults let alone children.3 Then of course gender, class, location and age will have played a part in determining what constitutes children’s poetry, and its definition will have changed over time. Probably the majority of the verse that was once thought perfectly suited to the needs or wants of

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