Does This Poem Need to Sit at the Kids’ Table?

I don’t think I’ve ever told you that one of my favorite poems (I do have a few ahem) is by Delmore Schwartz.

i am cherry alive

‘I am cherry alive,” the little girl sang,
“Each morning I am something new:
I am apple, I am plum, I am just as excited
As the boys who made the Hallowe’en bang:
I am tree, I am cat, I am blossom too:
When I like, if I like, I can be someone new,
Someone very old, a witch in a zoo:
I can be somone else whenever I think who,
And I want to be everything sometimes too,
And I put it in along with everything
To make the grown-ups laugh whenever I sing:
And I sing : It is true; It is untrue;
I know, I know, the true is untrue,
The peach has a pit,
The pit has a peach:
And both may be wrong
When I sing my song,
But I don’t tell the grown-ups, because it is sad,
And I want them to laugh just like I do
Because they grew up
And forgot what they knew
And they are sure
I will forget it some day too.
They are wrong. They are wrong.
When I sang my song, I knew, I knew!
I am red, I am gold,
I am green, I am blue,
I will always be me,
I will always be new!”

I love the magic of this poem. It was posthumously published in 1979 as a picture book, illustrated by Barbara Cooney.

The poem has been included in poetry anthologies for children. Apparently another picture book was published in 1995 with a different illustrator, but it is out of print.

Why is it considered a poem for children only? It’s certainly a wonderful poem for children, but also for adults. After all, we know that the little girl is wrong and she will forget–most of the time.

But we adults also know that we easily can be reminded to allow the child into our adult selves!

That’s why I love dolls and cats and theatre and digging in the sand with a plastic pail and shovel.

Playing reminds us that we can be tree, cat, blossom, and a witch in a zoo! Sound a lot like writing?

How do you feel about dividing poems into those for children and those for adults?



Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Children's Literature, Dolls, Poetry

30 responses to “Does This Poem Need to Sit at the Kids’ Table?

  1. Kinda do agree with your point here

  2. I love the poem, too. I don’t think it should sit at the kids table. Even Dr. Seuss lines have plenty to teach adults.
    Sure there are lines not meant for kids, but wouldn’t all lines be a fit for adults? This is why we forget. She’s so right.

    • So true. I wonder if the best children’s books and poems are actually written for both children and adults–maybe one level for kids and then another level that adults get or that at least we see differently than children see it. But then there are things we need to see that children see so much more easily, like this poem shows.

  3. I agree that adults can gain from poetry “for children.” “I Am Cherry Alive” is beautiful, fun, and poignant for adults. Most of us have some memory of childhood creativity, and we see it in children when we grow up. I’m fond of poems (and stories) of R. L. Stevenson. Did you know he died on Samoa?

    • I think I must have known that, but forgot? Yup, forgot, like the poem. I used to love his poems. “The Land of Counterpane” was one I could really relate to because it seemed I was always sick as a kid AND had to go to bed really early so my bed was a place where I needed to use my imagination.

  4. I love this poem, Luanne. I do agree that adults benefit from poetry, books or movies that are geared toward children. One of my favorite movies was “Babe.” 🙂

  5. Windy Mama

    The poems I remember and can recite are all “children’s” poems, or more accurately, poems I read in childhood. Works by Carl Sandburg or Lewis Carroll or William Blake or Rudyard Kipling, most of which aren’t really kids poems at all. This poem Cherry Alive (which I’ve never read before – thank you!) may sound like a child’s poem but it’s about loss of innocence, a rather adult theme.

    • I wish I could find the truth to this: did Schwartz write this poem as one of his “regular” poems or was it written for children? You might be on to something, although we know Blake sort of segregated his poems by those of Innocence and those of Experience ;). Kipling’s “If” always reminds me of my father. He must have been raised on that poem and brought it up many times to me. And speaking of Carroll, Beware the Jabberwock, my son!!! That poems makes me appear pretty dotty, but I sure love it! Thanks for bring up these old favorites, S!

  6. I think poems CAN be both and it’s going to depend on the reader and any associations they have with it or with the subject matter.

  7. I definitely think this poem should be on the adult’s table too, it’s a perfect and poignant reminder of how we lose our true selves and struggle to remember them later.

    • I love embracing the playful parts of myself, but sometimes I stop and see it from the outside and I probably look like a durned fool to a lot of people ;). Oh well. Too bad for them ;), right?

  8. I feel that we all need to listen to our inner child, Luanne. This is a sweet and fun way to listen to words, feeling lighter hearted and happy from poetry.

    • Poetry can be so much fun. Have you ever read Troy Thompson’s Excellent Peotry Book? And I mean Peotry LOL. Or Rose, Where Did You Get that Red?

      • I need to look these books up, I definitely hope to be reading “Doll God,” at the Delaware County District Library someday, Luanne. I wrote a suggestion to the library. I like the way you listed playing in the sand, dolls, cats and theater are just some of the fun ways to be able to enjoy life.
        I like ‘dressing up’ in costumes and celebrating holidays. I still have my Beatrix Potter porcelain figurines out (up high for little ones to look at, but not touch) and my stuffed bunny collection with baskets to carry these charming and soft things around in. I am thinking by May, Memorial Day, they may just have to be banished to their storage tub! Smiles, Robin

  9. I think the best children’s poems speak to adults. As I grow in years I feel the child in me is more accessible than ever. 🙂

    • Maybe THAT is what is going on with me. I’m in my 2nd childhood ;)! There must be reason for that. Why do we kind of “go back” in time a bit as we get older?

      • I think we go forward to a time when we are more spontaneous and unguarded in the present, like children. My friends of a similar age and I laugh a lot at ourselves.

  10. If this poem is at the children’s table, Luanne, then that’s definitely where I want to sit. I love this!

  11. The poem definitely belongs at the adult table. In fact, without any context, I would just assume it was written for adults, not children. Mainly because of these lines:
    But I don’t tell the grown-ups, because it is sad,
    And I want them to laugh just like I do
    Because they grew up
    And forgot what they knew
    And they are sure
    I will forget it some day too.
    They are wrong. They are wrong.
    The lines are so poignant, almost detracting from the silly funny light-heartedness of the lines up to that point. But not detracting in a bad way. The poem becomes more sober to me at that point, a reminder that we do forget and perhaps we need poems like this to help us remember.

    • I think the silliness of the style of the poem is a great way to show how we ought to approach so much of life–and yet, as adults, do not. But it does also make it much more poignant. So true, Marie.

  12. I remember the kids’ table very well when I was growing up and the realization I would never be able to move “up” because there was no room at the “big” table for the whole family anyway.
    Maybe this poem is the same idea – kids can love it and hold on to it even when they’re adults?
    It’s a great poem – the kid in me loves it!

    • Hah, what a glass ceiling in your family, Sheila! As a kid I used to hate the kids’ table because I was the oldest grandchild and felt it was insulting to sit with the little kids. But when I was a teen I didn’t want to sit with the adults and sometimes they made me!!!

  13. This is an awesome poem! And it’s for both children and adults, I think.

    As for how I feel about dividing poetry in general… well, don’t shoot me, but I’m not a big poetry fan to begin with. I like Frost. I like Shel Silverstein. There are a few individual poems I like. So, I don’t know. Some poetry seems a bit too complex for kids, but a lot of what we consider “kid” poetry speaks to me as an adult.

    • You summed it up for me here: “Some poetry seems a bit too complex for kids, but a lot of what we consider ‘kid’ poetry speaks to me as an adult.” I agree, which is why “we” all like Silverstein and why Frost and Langston Hughes and Mary Oliver are so popular.

  14. It doesn’t have to be Shel Silverstein for kids to enjoy the nuance of imagery. Stevenson, Longfellow, and others wrote lovely poetry that children enjoyed and still do.

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