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March 4, 2011

Poetry Friday--Harry Behn

Many years ago when I first became interested in haiku, I came across a book by Harry Behn called Cricket Songs: Japanese Haiku. I thought about the book the other day and went looking for it again. In my search I found mention of another Behn title, Chrysalis: Concerning Children and Poetry. It sounded interesting, so I put in an interlibrary loan request for it since it is out of print (published in 1968). Only one library in NH still had it listed in our state system! I received the book last week and started right in on it. It is a series of short essays on Behn's life, children, and poetry. I absolutely love it! Behn came from another time--a time when poets and poetry still had a presence in American life. Every other paragraph has a quotable line or two, this one is my favorite:
Keyed up as we are by the incessant din of causes, we have lost composure and the ability to think our own thoughts. With everyone consigned to one side or the other, we are confused and wooed by hate on one side and fear on the other. It becomes harder to know what is just or honest. Perhaps we need what normal children seem not to have lost--a faintly amused view of what is.
It's as if Behn could see what America would be like in 2011--"confused and wooed by hate on one side and fear on the other." That's it in a nutshell. Just look at what's happening in Wisconsin.

Here's a poem by Behn called "Lost":
I shall remember chuffs the train
Almost too far away to be heard,
    Chuffing into darkness descending,
    Puffing into distance unending,
Into silence barely stirred.

The train bell rings across the night,
Deep under stillness rings the bell,
    A lonely, silvery, faraway ringing
    Deep in a starry wilderness, bringing
Sounds of a dripping winter well.

No voice was ever more lost or lonely
Than the engine's echoing call
    Chuffing on and on and still
    Puffing farther away until
There is no sound, no sound at all.
Stop by The Small Nouns and catch up on the Poetry Friday goings-on in the blogosphere.


  1. Oh boy...prescient indeed. I have heard Harry's name, but can't think where now. Do you think he wrote primarily for young readers or for adults?

    One happy effect of hanging out on Poetry Friday is that it makes me feel that poets and poetry do still have a presence in American life. Thanks for your contributions to that!

  2. Hi Heidi! Behn wrote books primarily for children; he was a screenwriter for adults. One of his poems was made into a picture book illustrated by Greg Couch, Halloween, and is still available.

  3. Thanks for introducing me to Behn. I'm happy to meet him!