Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Little Boy Blue made me cry

I was an early and avid reader. An only child living in an isolated house, several miles from town, without a family automobile, I had few playmates and lacked access to them. I wasn’t completely without friends my own age. Sometimes Bruce and Mary Grace H. would come over and play Monopoly with me. Sometimes Johnny Wayne H. and I would go swimming in the pond in his parents’ pasture. But unlike most other children I knew, I was always happy when summers were over and school started for another year, because I could see so many of my friends on a daily basis once again.

Most of the time at home I was left to my own devices. Daddy worked hard at the aircraft factory and craved peace and quiet when he got home. Mama struggled with her own thoughts, coping with the cancer that would eventually take her life. When I discovered books, I took to them like a duck takes to water. Books were a way of escaping my daily reality. Through the bound and printed word, my world expanded through the thoughts and experiences of others. Reading took me away from the unhappy, lonely world around me into worlds I didn't even know existed. On rainy days when I couldn’t play outdoors, on cold days when I preferred being indoors, and on weekend days when I was away from school companions, I often curled up in a chair next to a bookcase and read poems from A Child’s Garden of Verses or stories in The Golden Bible or lots of interesting articles from my 20-volume set of The Book of Knowledge and my equally imposing Grolier Encyclopedia.

It was on one of these days when I was about eight or nine that I discovered a poem called “Little Boy Blue.” Not the familiar nursery rhyme in which the sheep’s in the meadow and the cow’s in the corn and the little boy is under a haystack fast asleep. No, I'm talking about a poem by a man named Eugene Field that brought me face to face with death for the first time. If you don’t know the poem, here it is:

Little Boy Blue
by Eugene Field (1850-1895)

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and staunch he stands;
The little toy soldier is red with rust,
And his musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new,
And the soldier was passing fair;
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
Kissed them and put them there.

“Now don't you go till I come,” he said,
“And don't you make any noise!”
So, toddling off to his trundle bed,
He dreamt of the pretty toys;
And, as he was dreaming, an angel song
Awakened our Little Boy Blue——
Oh! the years are many, the years are long,
But the little toy friends are true!

Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
Each in the same old place,
Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
The smile of a little face;
And they wonder, as waiting the long years through
In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
Since he kissed them and put them there.

I was devastated and wept many tears, not for the child who died, oddly enough, but for the toys he left behind that waited patiently, trusting that he would return. I think even then I was preparing myself for my mother's death, though it was still a shock when it happened. Since her death, in a way I can't explain, she is Little Boy Blue from the poem, awakened by an angel song, and I am both the little toy soldier and the little toy dog, wondering about her long absence. As of last October 4th, fifty years have passed since my mother died.

Another work that affected me greatly at an early age was a short story by Oscar Wilde called “The Nightingale and the Rose.” I will let you find that one on your own.


  1. "The Nightingale and the Rose" is an even sadder story! Whilst looking it up to refresh my memory, I found (Wikipedia) that a Russian composer wrote an opera (1990-1991) using this story and four of Christina Rosseti's poems.

  2. Thanks for your pointer to this poem. I have read it before, but not remembered the name of the poet, as my bete noir has always been NAMES! I too, was an avid reader, as opposed to a outdoor tomboy, so I identify totally with your love of the same. And the poem still made me cry, like the first time I found it!