Two weeks ago, a facebook friend of mine posted this video, which I have to say is just about the damnedest thing I ever saw. It’s a video of a 3-year-old named Samuel, who with astonishing interpretive skill recites “Litany,” a charming poem by Billy Collins. Collins, well-known and widely-loved, was once Poet Laureate of the United States. Now, if I were a poet, and I were given the choice of being appointed Poet Laureate of the United States or having Samuel recite my work, hands-down I’d choose the little guy.
Watching him brings me joy on several levels. For one thing, he’s three, and perfect. He has a froggy and a dragonfly on his shirt. Behind him the room is the shambles that 3-year-olds make of rooms. It’s likely that to Samuel’s mother, those strewn toys feel—well, maybe not always, but sometimes—like breadcrumbs dropped along the way as Samuel passes through her days. Watch him: He will never be three again. He’ll be a marvelous four, a spectacular five. Samuel’s mom gets to cherish him in this moment, but she and her son have been piling up such moments for a while now, and there are so many more coming. What purer joy does this life afford us?
embedded by Embedded Video
But we were talking about me. Another reason that I take delight in this video is that my youngest daughter and I, when she was not too much older than Samuel is today, used to memorize Yeats together. She would recite “Stolen Child” to me, and “No Second Troy.” What I was doing back then, without knowing it, was wiring her brain for poetry. Victoria’s a young woman now, but she still reads poetry and sometimes she writes it. She’s got something—a love, an affinity, a source of delight—she might not possess had we not laid some cranial cable some 15 years ago. So when I see Samuel’s parents doing the same thing, I think of Samuel at 21…and smile.
I’ll give you one final reason I am transported by this video. Look over Samuel’s left shoulder. Go ahead…all the way back through the dining area. What do you see? A bookcase full of…what do they call those things again? Those rapidly obsolescing objects that people turn the pages of and insert toilet-paper bookmarks into and stain with the nectarine they’re eating while they read? Ah, yes: Books. Samuel is growing up in a house with books. He’s blessed.
Back in early July, I read a piece in the New York Times by David Brooks. He discusses research being done that demonstrates the effect wrought on students by the mere presence of books in the house. It’s not that hard to help your kid to connect with the pleasures of art and thought and to move in circles populated by the best minds that ever lived. But I didn’t need to tell you that…Samuel’s telling you that.
And here, by the way, is Billy Collins himself reading “Litany.”