Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, TEN YEARS OLD, by LOUIS UNTERMEYER



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TEN YEARS OLD, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A city child, rooms are to him no mere
Last Line: "richard! Get through! And put your stockings on."
Alternate Author Name(s): Lewis, Michael
Subject(s): Children; Cities; Childhood; Urban Life


A city child, rooms are to him no mere
Places to live in. Each one has a clear
Color and character of its own. His toys
And tumbled books make the small bedroom seem
The place to build a practicable dream.
He likes the brilliant parlor, and enjoys
Nothing so much as bringing other boys
To romp among the delicate furniture,
And brush within an inch of ivories, lamps,
And other things not held by iron clamps,
Like Chinese vases, and hence, insecure.
His father's library, with its heavy tone,
Seldom detains him, for he has his own.
He views the kitchen with a hungry eye,
And loafs about it, picking up the stray
Details of gossip that may drop his way,
Standing so innocently inattentive. Sly
And with a squirrel's curiosity,
Careless of barred or sacred corners, he
Hunts back of shelves until he finds the key
With which to open bureau drawers and pry
Into forbidden desks and cupboards; through
Laces and letters, purses and a slue
Of things mysterious because taboo.
But most of all he likes the bathroom, where
The panel mirror shows his four feet two;
Where with a towel or bathrobe, he can strike
A hundred attitudes not only like
His printed heroes but the gods themselves.
Stripping himself, he dreams and dances there,
The pink embodiment of Peter Pan.
Or, changing to an older superman,
He turns to Siegfried brandishing his sword
Or Jason snatching at the golden fleece.
The figures crowd around him and increase.
Now he is David battling for the Lord.
Mixing his battle-cries with psalms of peace.
Now he is Mowgli, at the cobra's hoard
With black Bagheera. Swiftly he has drawn
Excalibur from its invisible sheath.
He is Ulysses on his native heath,
Tristram, Tom Sawyer and Bellerophon;
The shining Parsifal who knew no sin;
Sir Launcelot and Huckleberry Finn;
George Washington and Captain Hook and Thor;
Hansel awaking in the magic wood;
The King of Oz, John Silver, Robin Hood --
He is all these and half a hundred more.
He scowls and strides, he utters harsh commands;
Great armies follow him to new-born lands,
Battling for treasures lost or glories gone.
None can withstand the thunder of his frown;
His eye is terrible; the walls go down. . . .
Cries of the conquered mingle with the cheers.
While through the clash and battle-smoke he hears --

"Richard! Get through! And put your stockings on."





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