Dreaming in Hilda Conkling’s early poetry

Henry Ryland - Two classical figures reclining
Henry Ryland – Two classical figures reclining (c.1890) – from All Paintings via Wikimedia Commons

Poems by a Little Girl contains verses recited by Hilda Conkling to her mother when she was aged between four and nine. They remarkably combine the spontaneity and unfettered imagination of childhood with a mastery of poetic language rarely seen at that young age. Several of them deal with dreaming and dreams, and then she seizes this as an opportunity for speaking freely of anything in her mind. This theme of dreams sometimes mingles with that of fairies and the “little people” of forests. Indeed, Hilda often walked in her garden or on hills and in forests near her home, where her imagination could flow freely, so dreams and the marvellous will generally blend with nature.

Two of her poems contain the word ‘dream’ in their title, she composed them around the age of six. The first one is presented in both Fullbooks.com and Project Gutenberg as two successive poems sharing the same title; however, checking with the Internet Archive digitization of the book, this appears as a transcription error: the poem takes two pages, and the title is recalled in the header of the second page. In it, she tells how sharing her dreams to children may help them tasting a better food, then that “their dreams may come back,” finally by feeding children she hopes to share with them her own dreams.

ABOUT MY DREAMS

NOW the flowers are all folded
And the dark is going by.
The evening is arising . . .
It is time to rest.
When I am sleeping
I find my pillow full of dreams.
They are all new dreams:
No one told them to me
Before I came through the cloud.
They remember the sky, my little dreams,
They have wings, they are quick, they are sweet.
Help me tell my dreams
To the other children,
So that their bread may taste whiter,
So that the milk they drink
May make them think of meadows
In the sky of stars.
Help me give bread to the other children
So that their dreams may come back:
So they will remember what they knew
Before they came through the cloud.
Let me hold their little hands in the dark,
The lonely children,
The babies that have no mothers any more.
Dear God, let me hold up my silver cup
For them to drink,
And tell them the sweetness
Of my dreams.

The second one, titled “The Dream,” is about fairies.

I now present some of her poems composed between the ages of seven and nine. First we have the converse of “The Dream:” a poem titled “Fairies” that is in fact about dreams:

FAIRIES

I CANNOT see fairies.
I dream them.
There is no fairy can hide from me;
I keep on dreaming till I find him:
There you are, Primrose! I see you, Black Wing!

Dreams come also poetically inside fairy tales and imaginary stories. For instance “Poem-Sketch in Three Parts” tells about a boy carried across the ocean on the back of a bird, they finally land on an island; Part III “The Island” ends with “And there they sank down out of the air / Into the dream.

I end with a short poem, also revolving around dreams, and mingling with nature and love. Note the sentence about “mist of dream” that is repeated and emphasised:

SONG

A SCARLET bird went sailing away through the wood . . .

It was only a mist of dream
That floated by.

Bare boughs of my apple-tree,
Beautiful gray arms stretched out to me,
Swaying to and fro like angels’ wings . . .

It was only a mist of dream
That floated by.

Source of the poems: Hilda Conkling, Poems by a Little Girl (1920). Electronic version available on Fullbooks.com and Project Gutenberg. Checked with the digitisation of the original edition on Internet Archive.

This is a revised version of a post previously published on Agapeta, 2015/12/13.

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