Singing 'A Tune Beyond Ourselves': An Investigation into the Diverse Voices of Childhood and Poetry

Abstract

Over the past 300 years the ‘World of Children’ has evolved and along with it so has poetry written for, and about, children. This thesis focuses on the poetic portrayal of children in Great Britain from 1715 to 1885, specifically the virtues which adults have deemed necessary, ‘desirable, attractive, or interesting in the young’. The poets I discuss — Isaac Watts, William Blake, Charles and Mary Lamb, Charlotte Smith, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, William Wordsworth, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, and Robert Louis Stevenson— either view children as little adults, adults in training, or rebel against adult interference in children’s lives. All of the poets strive to protect and advance a particular concept of childhood. The recent scholarship of critics such as Nancy Taylor Coghill, Norejane J. Henrickson, and Mitzi Myers has shown that as the canon of children’s literature has evolved, a progression away from didacticism towards imagination and ‘fun’ is apparent, with the latter being preferred. This thesis explores whether the apparent division of poetry for, and about, children is as clear cut as this. Throughout, I argue that the history of childhood and poetry is variegated and that creativity has not ousted didacticism over time. Instead the two currents have at times co-existed, been merged, or blended with other approaches

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This paper was published in Research Commons@Waikato.

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