The Origin of Poetry, According to Me

Where did the poems come from? What I mean is, how did I come to be a poet? The beginning goes back to infancy.

It all started in my little bedroom on Trimble Street. We moved there before my first birthday, and we didn’t move away until I was 8 1/2, mid-way through 3rd grade. Some of my earliest memories are in that bedroom–in fact, in my crib in that bedroom. I would have been younger than two.

I had a little blue music box that my mother would wind up and play before she put me down for a nap or bedtime. When it wound down, sometimes I would fall asleep. More often, though, I would call to her and beg her to rewind it. The music was haunting and dare I say addictive! Two years ago I wrote about the music box, which I still have, and asked if anyone could identify the song it plays. Nobody could at that time, but the other day a reader found the post and told me that the music is “La Paloma,” composed in 1863 by a Spanish Basque man named Sebastian Yradier. It might be the most well-known tune in Spanish-language countries, especially Mexico!

Here is “La Paloma” (the Dove) as played by a fancier antique music box.

And here it is played as a guitar solo:

Here is my little music box:

Hearing that music over and over again was the foundation for poetry. The next layer, added over the few years before I began school, was nursery rhymes, folk songs, and picture books that used poetic devices such as rhyme and repetition. These were all found in my room. The books were not expensive–merely Little Golden Books from the grocery store. The records were little 45s played on my plastic children’s record player. Probably the biggest influence after that music box tune was the lullaby lyrics in a picture book my mother read to me: “All The Pretty Little Horses.”

Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
When you wake, you shall have,
All the pretty little horses.

Blacks and bays, dapples and greys,
Go to sleepy you little baby,

Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby,
When you wake, you shall have,
All the pretty little horses.

There were layers after this that included a children’s poetry anthology my mother gave me, teachers who let us recite poems without analyzing them, and eventually I discovered Edna St. Vincent Millay reading her poetry on a record which I found as a teen at the public library.  I was mesmerized by the poem “Renascence.” Here is a recording of the poem she wrote at age 19!!!! although, alas, not recorded by Millay. I sure wish I had that library record as Millay reading it herself was phenomenal.

I know that poet XJ Kennedy wrote the following:

Ars Poetica


The goose that laid the golden egg

Died looking up its crotch

To find out how its sphincter worked.


Would you lay well?  Don’t watch.

Nevertheless, now that it’s come to me what the greatest influences were in making me a poet, I can’t “unknow” them.


I’ve put my memoir on the back burner again, but feel I am so much closer with it. Now I am writing a poetry chapbook that explores the “Red Riding Hood” stories.

Did you hear or read fairy tales when you were a child (besides Disney)? If so, which ones influenced you the most?



Filed under #amreading, #AmWriting, #poetrycommunity, #writerlife, #writerslife, Inspiration, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection

107 responses to “The Origin of Poetry, According to Me

  1. My 4th grade class learned The Charge of the Light Brigade. In 7th grade, I learned The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe for a verse choir I belonged to. Poetry examples. I don’t know what fairy tales influenced me, though I certainly read and heard them read.

    • The Bells! What an amazing poem. We actually did that poem in 8th grade. Teacher split us up into four groups, not by our singing voice types, but by the overall “feel” of our speaking voices. I felt pretty sorry for the girls in the brazen alarum bells group ;). The Charge of the Light Brigade is a passionate choice! Thanks, Ellen!

  2. Fascinating insights, Luanne. Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood spring to mind from the top of my head

  3. I agree with Derrick–fascinating.
    I remember getting a copy of Grimm’s fairy tales. I’m not sure how old I was, but I was surprised by how gruesome the stories were. I remember discovering the British WWI poets when I was in high school.

    • I had a 19th century illustrated copy of Grimm’s fairy tales when I was a child. I reveled in their goriness (to tease my dad).

    • I am amazed at how many people here mention Grimm Brothers’ tales because there has been a real effort in the U.S. to sanitize them for children (hence Disney). One of the scenes that shows up in my memoir is my mother throwing away my Grimms when I had a nightmare. But, ooh, I never forgot. Especially The Juniper Tree and Bluebeard. WHOA!
      that’s wonderful that you were exposed to the WWI poets when you were in high school! I hope they didn’t make you analyze them.

  4. So interesting! My love of poetry and writing also grew out of the nursery rhymes and fairy tales of my youth. My love of art, of powerful images too, from the gorgeous illustrations. Mother gave me a 10 volume set called My Book House filled with wonderful poetry, fairy tales, and myths from around the world. Some of my favorites were The Water Babies about a little chimney sweep and the little rich girl who fell in loving each other and turned into mermaid-like water-babies, The Ice Queen about a sister trying to save a beloved brother from the Queens evil clutches, and of course Beauty and the Beast. A favorite nursery rhyme that moves me still–who knows why–is “with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall make music wherever she goes.” Perhaps that’s what we poets and storytellers aspire to. Have you read Angela Carters adult retelling of some classic fairy tales? Darkly lush and erotic. I believe Red is among them.

    • The Snow Queen was one of my absolute favorite fairy tales. I still have the book. The cover has fallen off from being opened so many times.

      • The Snow Queen is my husband’s favorite, whereas until I was working on material for teaching I had almost forgotten it. isn’t that crazy? I wonder if it has something to do with the power of the brother and sister story?

        • For me, I think it was the world of the story that made it so memorable.

          • The “world of the story” is why I think the Grimm tales are so much better stories than others. They were so good about creating the atmosphere. And The Snow Queen, the Andersen story right?, also has that atmosphere, as do his other stories.

        • For me, I think it was that the sister, the female, was the one on the quest to save her beloved brother. Looking back those appear to be the ones I was most drawn to, like in the Waterbabies and Beauty and the beast. The female attempting to save her beloved brother, friend, father.

          • Those must have felt so powerful! I feel like some of the tales are very powerful regarding the sibling bond, too, which I didn’t have when I was little because my only sibling is eight years younger.

    • Deborah, it sounds like that book was a very carefully curated anthology–stories from different sources, rather than a Perrault or Andersen or Grimm. It sounds beautiful. I have read Angela Cart’ers tales–even taught them before. Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross to see a fine lady on a white horse! Loved those nursery rhymes!

      • Yes, it was. A whole series of books with stories and fables and poetry geared for different ages. The illustrations were unique for each as well. So all from different sources.

        • Oh wow. That is unusual about the illustrations. Were they from the classic illustrators? Dore and Crane and people like that? Or more contemporary than that?

      • I’d love to hear your take on Carter’s stories sometime. What a fun class that must have been!

        • We read many versions of classic tales. It was a lot of fun. Sometimes we even watched a Disney movie and then read a lot of stories based on the same tale. Disney didn’t fare too well with my students after that!!!!

  5. A charming reminiscence, Luanne. No wonder you became a poet. I truly love “La Palmona,” as I associate it with my years as a ski instructor training to become a better skier. Of all things! Singing that famous song, as I was skiing, helped me make better, smoother turns and traverse the slopes more gracefully. It provided the perfect rhythm. I look forward to your chapbook based on “Little Red Riding Hood.”

    • Oh, I love hearing that about the song, Elaine! How cool is that! So you know why it would be so addictive to a little one with that rhythm! Thank you re the chapbook!

  6. I love your title, Luanne! I remember those little 45 records and the Little Golden Books. I don’t recall having a favorite nursery rhyme, but I do remember being teased by kids who would ask me where Jack was and what we did when we went up the hill. Maybe that’s why I never became a poet. 🙂 I loved the guitar version of “La Paloma.”

  7. What a lovely post, Luanne. La Paloma is a beautiful song no matter the source. Thanks for sharing your origins of poetry.

  8. I just noticed that so many of your followers have such delightful names!

  9. I love the music from the coin music player. It transports me back to childhood. I don’t recognize the tune, but I like. I read some fairy tales as a girl. Rapunzel is the one I remember reading the most, although I had, and still have, crocheted finger puppets of Little Red Riding Hood.

    • It’s so funny but I barely remember Rapunzel whereas others were so vivid. But NOW I love Rapunzel and my memories include the musical Into the Woods and the more recent movie. I covet those little red finger puppets!!! That music from the music player sounds so much like what I heard when my music box and I were much younger hah. Such a beautiful song to go to sleep to.

  10. I heard lots of fairy tales and fables as a child. A couple of the ones that stayed with me most were Beauty and the Beast, the Princess and the Pea. I’ve just had my version of Beauty published. I’m not quite sure why the other one made such an impression – perhaps it’s the drawing I still have in my head of the princess on a huge pile of mattresses.

    • Yay for your Beauty version!!! That is such a complicated story. I have to admit I was more familiar at a younger age with the Grimm tales than the Perrault, so it was less familiar to me as a child. Very familiar now, of course. Princess and the Pea is one of my tales since my mother always had to call me that to tell me I was being too sensitive :/.

  11. I recognized the music on the antique music box immediately but would not have been able to identify it. It’s good you had all of that to build on.

    • Marlene, I love that you recognized the music! I had no idea the song was so well known and after I tried to find a name for it a couple of years ago to no avail I thought maybe it wasn’t that well known. But it shows how hard it is to identify songs from little mangled bits (like my old music box).

  12. My mom read me lots of German fairy tales and when we came to Canada and I heard the same fairy tales in English I was so surprised, as I realized, “I KNOW this story!”

    • LOL. The German tales were ones I first learned. My mother threw my book away after I had a nightmare. But I had already engraved them on my brain by then. It’s likely that a lot of the Grimm Brothers’ stories had been oral tales and many taken from other written sources, but they were such good storytellers with sick minds hahaha that they became SO memorable.

  13. I can see how La Paloma’s poignant moments would awaken poetry in a small child who has poetry to be awakened. Edna St. Vincent Millay was really something at 19 — or at any age. She was the new Romantic!

    • Interesting point: “a small child who has poetry to be awakened.” So you think being a poet is also inherent in some people more so than others? My environment was so conducive: an only child until I was eight, my own room, given books and a record player with records, a mother who read to me at bedtime, and lots of time in my room alone (early bedtime, mandatory lockins, etc.). But it might have made another respond differently.

    • Millay was such a phenomenon. That poem is incredible by any standards.

      • I think some young children, for whatever reasons, respond intensely to music, stories, dance, etc., and feel driven to make those kinds of things. Introversion, which seems innate, probably plays a role. There’s strong inner life, an inner studio, where creativity can take place.

  14. I attribute my love of poetry to Mother Goose, my grandmother’s edition of Grimm’s fairy tales (very much *not* Disney!), A.A. Milne, and Rudyard Kipling.

    • I’m seeing this pattern here about the Grimm brothers. They seem to inspire writers!!! Yes, very much not disney hahahahahaha. Sick men, those. 😉 I can see Milne and Kipling being inspiring, too!!!

  15. I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful post, Luanne about the origins of poetry (according to you). It gave me such a lift to read it and reflect on my own origins as a writer. I’m very glad I took the time to listen to the Edna St. Vincent Millay poem. It took my breath away.

    • Oh, that made me smile that it made you reflect on your origins as a writer and that it gave you a lift :). About Milley: right?!!!! Just phenomenal. 19 years old. That poem really takes the listener/reader through all the feels, doesn’t it?!

      • That Milley poem was just an incredible experience. Was there a big difference between the version you posted and the one Milley recorded herself?

        • Well, hearing her recite it herself sounded magical. And her voice seemed quaint to me, whereas this reader sounds more contemporary although not an American accent. I like listening to Sylvia Plath recite her own poems, too, because of her unique voice.

  16. How lovely to be able to trace your inspirational roots. We had a clock that played the Brahms Lullaby. I still sing it to babies now, and note they still settle to it. I think they can feel the vibration in my chest if I am hugging them close.
    I know the music of La Paloma but would not have remembered the name. How many singers have interpreted it over the years? Particularly country ones. I think there was a time that Julio Eglesias’ version was on repeat 🙂

    • That is so sweet about Brahms Lullaby. It’s so wonderful when we remember the positive from our early roots. So interesting about the Eglesias version being on repeat hahaha. Lots of youtube videos. I like that guitar one as one of the best, but then it’s more like what I heard as a baby–without words.

  17. I know this tune. I think I played it on the piano. Perfect for inspiring poems!

  18. I love the music! And the music box.
    My parents were storytellers so they made up a lot of their own fairy tales and fables. We had Bippity-Bop Man, Big Bad Wolfie, and Witchie Poo among many others. We also loved hearing scary stories. And we sang songs at bedtime, too.

    • Do you know how rare and cool that is that your parents were interactive like that with their kids? Entertainers they were, I guess. Very very special!!! Did you pass any of the stories or songs on to your kids? With my kids, I had certain songs and poems I would sing and recite all the time. Mostly they were ones I knew, but then I might improvise. For instance, my “billy Boy” has verses that I’m nobody else has ever heard of haha. sometimes my kids thought I made up stuff when I didn’t. When I was annoyed by them I would sing the Judy Garland song “I Don’t Care,” and they were sure I made it up. 😉

  19. I loved this post!! Thank you!! I loved all of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Jack in the Beanstalk was a favorite I loved the risk taking in it. And the “Fe Fie Fo Fum…” rhythm

  20. I love Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems. I read her biography as well. I will be glad to buy your biography as well one day! Keep up the great work. I love the recording too, I didn’t know they had this online.

    • I read her bio, too, but it was so long ago I barely remember it except for her sex life! I really wish they had Millay reciting her own poem online, although this one is good. It was so special to hear her read it. FYI there are LOTS of poems read available online. I think we all forget we have that resource.

  21. Wonderful post

  22. Great post, Luanne. I devoured Grimm’s fairy tales as a child, and they were the scariest. Loving such works as All the Pretty Little Horses offset that, though.😊

    • So many people here have mentioned the Grimms. I wonder if they had a big impact on creating writers! I mentioned above in a reply that they took their stories from other sources quite often, but the way they told stories was so good. They had a way of making them more memorable and more complex and no doubt more sicko. Yes, such a pretty poem with pretty images. There is something about the description of the horses that reminds me of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty.”

  23. I loved your story about the early influences in your life that led you to become a poet. I remember the All the Pretty Little Horse’s lullaby. My parents always had books and music in our home, too. My mother learned to play guitar and played at schools (mostly folk songs). One of my favorite books growing up was the Arbuthnot Anthology (I wish I’d gotten my hand on it). It was filled with classic poems, nursery rhymes, fables and fairy tales. There were line-drawn illustrations and the pages were ultra-thin, like a bible. I recall many of Aesop’s fables and the Grimm stories, too.

    • The onion skin pages! That alone probably made it seem special and a little magical. Oh, Aesop’s fables were other ones with a big impact, weren’t they?!

  24. I love the back stories for your poems!
    The Little Golden Books were my best friends, too. Pretty always has a collection of those books from somewhere in one of her antique booths. How many of us would be functionally illiterate if it weren’t for bookmobiles and Little Golden Books!

    • Haha, so true! The other source I had was raiding my grandparents house because their kids had book-books that they had left behind. Mostly series, but others as well such as Louisa May Alcott books and Black Beauty. But my mother seemed to think if she gave in to my whining every so often at the grocery store a Golden book would do it. Now I love the things, of course, for the nostalgia. Like Pretty, maybe. Imagine my shock when I went to teach children’s lit (an assigned course) for the university and I discovered so many amazing books that were around in my childhood and I had no idea ;).

  25. Luanne, how lovely that you’ve now got the name of the tune for your most unusual and beautiful music box. La Paloma sounds wonderful and no wonder you adored the music as a child! I still have the first music box given to me as very young by mother after her holiday to the Canary Islands. It is a small wooden grand piano, painted with images of Spain, stands on four turned wooden legs and still plays (just about!)

    I loved reading about the origin of poetry for yourself, the nurturing of your love of literature, the written word is so important and especially in those younger years. Hans Christian Andersson stories along with Astrid Lindgren were some of my favourites as well as Brothers Grimm when I was a little older.

    • My 4th grade teacher read Pippi to us in class–every day after lunch. What a wonderful experience!!!! And the Andersen tales are sooooo good. He was such a phenomenal storyteller and if we’re being judgmental here I have to say his stories are the most well-written and a perfect blend of the positive and the harsh. His are also more original and less based on oral tradition.
      Your music box sounds beautiful. So funny when you say “still plays (just about)” haha as that is what mine is like!!!

  26. Amy

    What a lovely post! It resonated on so many levels—bringing back my own memories of Little Golden books and 45 records. What kids today are missing without those tactile experiences. And that last poem about the Golden Goose cracked me up! I used to write poems as a kid—corny rhyming poems—but eventually I became a prose person. As I’ve told you, I still struggle with reading poetry, but for many reasons, your poems always touch me.

    • Interesting what you say about tactile experiences. This is why people need to cook and bake with kids. They have too much experience with screens and not enough with engaging more of themselves beyond their minds and fingers. The gardener doesn’t even want me to let our CATS play with screens much. He saw Perry playing Mouse for Cats on my ipad and was appalled. He a hands-on person which is why he spends so much time gardening. Tangent, I know, but you really nailed it about the kids.
      Aw thank you so much about my poems. That makes me feel so good!
      When I was getting my MFA XJ Kennedy was a guest poet in our department, and it was fun listening to him recite his silly poems like that one. While silly, they always had a profound point.

  27. Oh my goodness, it has been ages since I heard that song, but playing the recording–it all comes back. Such a wonderful song.

  28. Belated comment, here! Lovely post, Luanne! Reminds me of my own mom’s music box! It was round and made of metal – very light, maybe aluminum? That silver colour, anyway. You’d open it – there was space for a bit of jewellry – and it played a sweet, gentle little tune. No singing, just the notes. Wish I could remember how it went. Thanks for jogging this memory loose. 💞 Sigh…

  29. This was such an enjoyable post! (Came here from your comment on VJ’s interview post and glad I did)
    How nice to learn about this awesome song and the Romero one just ended and was some nice finger picking and great tune!
    Best wishes with your memoir – it sounds like you are not rushing anything and that can usually lead to much better outcomes.

  30. julietwilson

    It’s beautiful to listen to La Paloma and interesting to read about your poetic ‘formative influences’.

    I read a lot of fairy tales as a youngster, folk tales too. My first real poetic influence was a book of children’s verse my grandparents gave me when I was about 7 or 8.


    • Aw, thank you, Juliet! Oh, those first poetry books! Mine was Sung Under the Silver Umbrella, an anthology of children’s poetry. Thank you for stopping by!

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