Verse for Older Children – By Gabriel Rosenstock

Pic by Tubarones photography



Author’s Note:

From time to time, literary forums such as LitHub take a look at verse for children, that is to say they take it seriously as a literary genre – as they should. After a brief love affair with poetry, children can often leave it behind as their sense of fun, adventure, curiosity and enchantment begins to change.

It’s not that they are moving away from poetry – poets for children are not keeping up with them!

Writing poetry for children and older children, in Irish and English, is not something I take lightly. In recent years, I’ve taken the ekphrastic route, namely using artwork in the Public Domain as a spring board for poems about a character called Uncle Toby.

Regular rhythm and rhyme is often a feature of poems for younger children but one could argue that older children might prefer a more irregular rhythm. One way or the other, all a poet can hope for is that the older reader (8 – 12+) will engage with the narrative, atmosphere and emotional range of the poems and not feel too “grown up” to enjoy the zany fun.


Toby’s Travels With a Donkey

Arab and a donkey at the wall of a house –
Tadeusz Ajdukiewicz

I travelled far through the Middle East
With my faithful donkey, Mr Ned,
Were it not for his outrageous braying
Would I ever have crawled out of bed?

What can I say about my donkey?
The person I got him from said:
‘You’re getting a good deal here, Toby,
This donkey is very well bred.’

As I say, he was great in the morning
For dragging me out of the bed.
To be honest, he often took advantage–
He knew I was easily led.

He could really be awfully stubborn–
How often he used to play dead!
And I’d shout at him, ‘Listen, you donkey
Stop playing with my head!’

But I miss him every so often
And it’s many a tear I’ve shed
For my faithful travelling companion
The well-bred Mr Ned.


Toby the Time Traveller


Jean Béraud – Les grands boulevards

Is Toby a time traveller?
Am I a time traveller too?
I once saw you, Uncle Toby
In the year 1922!
I think it was in Paris,
‘What am I doing here?’
I was gripped by something awful,
Not excitement . . . dread, or fear.
I pinched myself, ‘Where am I?
Could this- could this be real?’
And time went slithering past me
Like a slippery young eel!

Toby! Toby!
Are you a hobo? A drifter?
Toby! Toby!
Are you a shape-shifter?!


Wounded Angel

The Wounded Angel – Hugo Simberg (Finnish, 1873 – 1917)

When Toby was a young boy
He had a friend called Mo.
They were always up to something,
Always on the go.

One day as they were fishing
On the shores of sweet Lough Bunny*
Says Mo to his buddy Toby:
‘Oh, I’m feelin’ kinda funny’!

Just then they saw an angel–
She had fallen down on her head:
‘Lord save us,’ says the poor angel,
‘Am I alive or dead?’

‘Angels don’t die!’ says Toby
And put a hanky on her brow,
Then Mo and Toby carried her
All the way to Slievenagow.

They rustled up hearty chicken soup:
‘You’ll be flyin’, says Toby, ‘soon!’
Says Mo to the wounded angel–
‘Wave to us from the moon!’

* Most Irish place names are meaningless in their Anglicised form. Lough Bunny has nothing to do with rabbits. From the Irish buinne, a torrent or flood.


A Half-Portrait of Uncle Toby

Henry Nielsen – Mandsportræt med hat

Toby’s friends got together,
‘We’re commissioning a portrait! Of you!’
‘Of me?” exclaimed Uncle Toby,
‘Ah look, half a portrait will do.’

‘Fine! That will help us with costs!
One eye then, only one ear!’
‘Leave me the right ear,’ says Toby
‘It’s the only ear that can hear . . .’


About the Author

Gabriel Rosenstock is a bilingual poet (in Irish & English), haikuist, tankaist, playwright, novelist, short story writer, essayist, translator, writer for children and champion of ‘forlorn causes’ – the phrase is Hugh MacDiarmid’s. He is a Lineage Holder of Celtic Buddhism and a member of Aosdána (the Irish academy of arts and letters). Among his awards is the Tamgha-i-Khidmat medal (Pakistan) for services to literature.