Those who are familiar with my compositions, or have heard me speak on poetry, know that I have a kinship the old poet Thomas Hood. Sometimes reading a poet feels like reading lines from a dear friend, and that’s the case with me and Tom. Though long deceased, his poetic style and imagery has quite easily sailed through time unto today. Whilst reacquainting myself with his works recently, I ran across this wonderful, and surprising, poem that struck a chord for me. It is a delightful work and captures a very unique part of the human experience.
A Parental Ode to My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months
THOU happy, happy elf!
(But stop,—first let me kiss away that tear)—
Thou tiny image of myself!
(My love, he ’s poking peas into his ear!)
Thou merry, laughing sprite!
With spirits feather-light,
Untouched by sorrow, and unsoiled by sin—
(Good heavens! the child is swallowing a pin!)
Thou little tricksy Puck!
With antic toys so funnily bestuck,
Light as the singing bird that wings the air—
(The door! the door! he ’ll tumble down the stair!)
Thou darling of thy sire!
(Why, Jane, he ’ll set his pinafore a-fire!)
Thou imp of mirth and joy!
In Love’s dear chain so strong and bright a link,
Thou idol of thy parents—(Drat the boy!
There goes my ink!)
Thou cherub—but of earth;
Fit playfellow for Fays, by moonlight pale,
In harmless sport and mirth,
(That dog will bite him if he pulls its tail!)
Thou human humming-bee extracting honey
From ev’ry blossom in the world that blows,
Singing in Youth’s Elysium ever sunny,
(Another tumble!—that ’s his precious nose!)
Thy father’s pride and hope!
(He ’ll break the mirror with that skipping-rope!)
With pure heart newly stamped from Nature’s mint—
(Where did he learn that squint?)
Thou young domestic dove!
(He ’ll have that jug off, with another shove!)
Dear nurseling of the hymeneal nest!
(Are those torn clothes his best!)
Little epitome of man!
(He ’ll climb upon the table, that ’s his plan!)
Touched with the beauteous tints of dawning life—
(He ’s got a knife!)
Thou enviable being!
No storms, no clouds, in thy blue sky foreseeing,
Play on, play on,
My elfin John!
Toss the light ball—bestride the stick—
(I knew so many cakes would make him sick!)
With fancies buoyant as the thistle down,
Prompting the face grotesque, and antic brisk,
With many a lamb-like frisk,
(He ’s got the scissors, snipping at your gown!)
Thou pretty opening rose!
(Go to your mother, child, and wipe your nose!)
Balmy, and breathing music like the South,
(He really brings my heart into my mouth!)
Fresh as the morn, and brilliant as its star,—
(I wish that window had an iron bar!)
Bold as the hawk, yet gentle as the dove,—
(I tell you what, my love,
I cannot write, unless he ’s sent above!)
— Thomas Hood (1799-1845)
There is at once a joyful and funny, but also maddening and terrifying reality at play in these lines that those who have parented a 3 year old will immediately recognize. Having now a 3 1/2 year old “imp of mirth and joy” of my own (not to mention a 10 month old!), I can commiserate with this poem intimately, to say the least.
I have often shared this face of my dear friend Tom, who sees their “human humming-bee” bouncing off the walls or throwing the world’s largest tantrum:
…But I have much more (as I’m sure Tom did as well) felt drawn to the joy detailed so elegantly in the lines penned. He saw his son for who he was and loved him dearly. I have found it difficult being a good parent, and difficulty even understanding what “good” parenting is. By the looks of it from Tom, it always has been and always will be hard.
My dear Leif, “thou tiny image of myself,” now 3 1/2 yrs. old, you are treasured.