recess radio program

4/19/04
Hilda Conkling, Child Poet
    by John Cech

It's National Poetry Month, and many young people around the country will probably be writing some kind of verse -- from haikus to rap lyrics -- some time this month. Perhaps the most famous of all child poets in America was Hilda Conkling, the daughter of a poet, Grace Conkling, who was also a professor of English at Smith College and who believed strongly in reading to her daughters, from the start, the very best literature she could find, despite its sophisticated difficulties. Grace's younger daughter, Hilda, born in 1910, responded to these daily readings. She began to "speak" her own poems to her mother when she was four years old, and Grace Conkling copied down her daughter's words, broke them into poetic lines, then read the poems back to Hilda, who corrected them. Soon, a number of these poems were published in magazines, and by the time she was ten, Hilda's first book, Poems of a Little Girl, appeared, to be followed soon by two other volumes, Shoes of the Wind in 1922 and Silverhorn in 1924. She was hailed by the critic Louis Untermeyer as "the most gifted of all" child geniuses; her first book was even introduced by the poet, Amy Lowell. Strangely, as an act of teaching her child self-reliance, Grace Conkling quit copying down Hilda's spoken verses when the girl became a teenager. And with that, Hilda's writing stopped. One can't help but wonder what Hilda might have produced in later years when, as a child, she could already write a poem like this:

I shall be coming back to you
From the seas, rivers, sunny meadows,
glens that hold secrets:
I shall come back with my hads full
Of light and flowers.
Brooks braided in with sunbeams
Will hang from my fingers.
My heart will be awake . . .
All my thoughts and joys will go to you.
I shall bring back things I have picked up,
Traveling this road or the other,
Things found by the sea or in the pinewood.
There will be a pine-cone in my pocket,
Grains of pink sand between my fingers.
I shall tell you of a golden pheasant's feather;
Moons will glitter in my hair . . .
Will you know me?
I shall come back when sunset has turned away and gone,
And you will untangle the moons
And make me drowsy
And put me to bed.

Copyright 2004 John Cech

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