Saturday, November 8, 2008

I Shall Come Back

ONCE upon a time at evening-light
A little girl was sad.
There was a color in the sky,
A color she knew in her dreamful heart
And wanted to keep.
She held out her arms
Long, long,
And saw it flow away on the wind.
When it was gone
She did not love the moonlight
Or care for the stars.
She had seen the rose in the sky.
Sometimes I am sad
Because I have a thought
Of this little girl.

- Sunset, by Hilda Conkling

Cataloging my foibles and faults would be an easy thing to do. Surprisingly, a covetous jealousy of other people’s talent is not high among them. I don’t say that in a self-congratulatory way, because I see it more a gift of grace than a sign of good character. Thank God I’ve been given something to counterbalance, in some small degree, my disgustingly over-inflated sense of self-importance.

If I did suffer from that kind of jealousy, I could point to any number of blogs that would turn me green with envy. Appalachian History is one. Appalachian Patria is one. And in keeping with a theme, Appalachian Treks is yet another. Those are some ready examples of bloggers who do what I’d like to do, if only I could do it that well.

More recently, I've been wowed by the work of Kevin Sargent, as I mentioned a week ago. I’ve been enjoying the words and photos from this prolific genius in South Carolina’s Upstate, and while perusing his online galleries this evening, I came across a bit of verse he had reprinted, entitled I Shall Come Back:

I shall be coming back to you
From seas, rivers, sunny meadows,
Glens that hold secrets:
I shall come back with my hands full
Of light and flowers....
I shall bring back things I have picked up,
Traveling this road or the other,
Things found by the sea or in the pinewood.
There will be a pine-cone in my pocket,
Grains of pink sand between my fingers.
I shall tell you of a golden pheasant’s
Will you know me?

I glanced at the credit for this poem:

Hilda Conkling, Age 10, 1922

Age 10? OF course, I had to know more about this prodigy. I’ll confess that I’d never heard of Hilda Conkling before, or if I had, I’d forgotten about a person once described as “the most famous of all child poets in America.”

Hilda Conkling (1910-1986) was the daughter of poet Grace Conkling, who was a professor of English at Smith College. Grace read the very best literature she could find to her daughters from the start, and Hilda responded at age four by speaking her own poems to her mother. Grace transcribed her daughter’s words, broke them into poetic lines and read them back to Hilda, who would make corrections. Hilda Conkling's first book, Poems of a Little Girl, appeared when she was 10, followed soon by Shoes of the Wind and Silverhorn.

Grace Conkling wanted to teach her child self-reliance, so she quit copying down Hilda’s spoken verse when she became a teenager. After that, as far as we know, Hilda never created another poem.

The moon is thinking of the river
Winding through the mountains far away,
Because she has a river in her heart
Full of the same silver.

The full text of Hilda Conkling’s first book, with an introduction by Amy Lowell, is available online as a Project Gutenberg Ebook:

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