Eugene Field: Contribution as American Children Poet

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      THE POET LAUREATE OF CHILDREN.—Eugene Field was born in St. Louis in 1850. Of this western group of authors he was the only member who went to college. He completed the junior year at the University of Missouri, but did not graduate. At the age of twenty-three he began newspaper work there, and he continued this work in various places until his death in Chicago in 1895. For the last twelve years of his life he was connected with the Chicago Daily News.

Eugene Field Literary Contribution as American Children Poet
Eugene Field

      He wrote many poems and prose tales, but the work by which he will probably live in literature is his poetry for children. For his title of poet-laureate of children, he has had few worthy competitors. His Little Boy Blue will be read as long as there are parents who have lost a child. "What a world of little people was left unrepresented in the realms of poetry until Eugene Field came!" exclaimed a noted teacher. Children listen almost breathlessly to the story of the duel between "the gingham dog and the calico cat," and to the ballad of "The Rock-a-By Lady from Hushaby Street," and the dreams which she brings:—

 "There is one little dream of a big sugar plum,
 And lo! thick and fast the other dreams come
 Of popguns that bang, and tin tops that hum,
 And a trumpet that bloweth!"

      He loved children, and any one else who loves them, whether old or young, will enjoy reading his poems of childhood. Who, for instance, will admit that he does not like the story of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod?

 "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
 Sailed off in a wooden shoe—
 Sailed on a river of crystal light,
 Into a sea of dew.
 'Where are you going, and what do you wish?'
 The old moon asked the three.
 'We have come to fish for the herring fish
 That live in this beautiful sea;
 Nets of silver and gold have we!'
 Said Wynken,
 And Nod.
 "The old moon laughed and sang a song,
 As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
 And the wind that sped them all night long
 Ruffled the waves of dew."

      Who does not wish to complete this story to find out what became of the children? Who does not like Krinken?

 "Krinken was a little child,—
 It was summer when he smiled."

      Field could write exquisitely beautiful verse. His tender heart had felt the pathos of life, and he knew how to set this pathos to music. He was naturally a humorist, and his humor often caused him to take a right angle turn in the midst of serious thoughts. Parents have for nearly a quarter of a century used the combination of humor and pathos in his poem, The Little Peach, to keep their children from eating green fruit:—

 "A little peach in the orchard grew,—
 A little peach of emerald hue;
 Warmed by the sun and wet by the dew,
 It grew.
  * * * * *
 "John took a bite and Sue a chew,
 And then the trouble began to brew,—
 Trouble the doctor couldn't subdue.
 Too true!
 "Under the turf where the daisies grew
 They planted John and his sister Sue,
 And their little souls to the angels flew,—
 Boo hoo!"

      Time is not likely to rob Eugene Field of the fame of having written The Canterbury Tales of Childhood.

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