Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Remembering Phyllis McGinley... More Snowbound Reading

Do you remember the American poet Phyllis McGinley?  No less a poet than W. H. Auden wrote a foreword to her collected poems.  She's gone out of print, as the saying goes, but that is no reflection on her.  Do please search out her books.  She is a consistent delight.

She was born in 1905 in Ontario, Oregon and died in 1978, in New York City.  In between she married, moved to the then new "suburbs," raised children and wrote some of the best light verse of the last century.

Herewith, a Christmas favorite from 1948.

What Every Woman Knows

When Little boys are able
  To comprehend the flaws
In their December fable
  And part with Santa Claus,
Although I do not think they grieve,
How burningly they disbelieve!

They cannot wait, they cannot rest
For knowledge nibbling at the breast.
They cannot rest, they cannot wait
To set conniving parents straight.

Branding that comrade as a dunce
Who trusts the saint they trusted once,
With rude guffaw and facial spasm
They publish their iconoclasm,
And find particularly shocking
The thought of hanging up a stocking.

But little girls (no blinder
  When faced by mortal fact)
Are cleverer and kinder
  And brimming full of tact.
The knowingness of little girls
Is hidden underneath their curls.

Obligingly, since parents fancy
The season's tinsel necromancy,
They take some pains to make pretense
Of duped and eager innocence.

Agnostics born but Bernhardts bred,
They hang the stocking by the bed,
Make plans, and pleasure their begetters
By writing Santa lengthy letters.
Only too well aware the fruit
Is shinier plunder, richer loot.

For little boys are rancorous
  When robbed of any myth,
And spiteful and cantankerous
  To all their kin and kith.
But little girls can draw conclusions
And profit from their lost illusions.


  1. Thanks for that. That was my mother's favorite poem and I had lost her book of poems after her death.

    How nice to find it again.

  2. JaneEire7:52 AM

    I have loved Phyllis McGinley since discovering her in gradeschool in the early '80s. My favorite is "One Crowded Hour of Glorious Strife" about getting her daughters out the door in the morning. The last lines are "Oh, I love my daughters with a love that's reckless/As Cornelia's for the jewels in her fabled necklace./But Cornelia, even, must have raised three cheers/At the front door closing on her school-bent dears." I think of that often as I watch my children run for the bus!

  3. Anonymous11:41 AM

    Looking for "I'm Not Entirely Helpless"
    First appeared in Redbook I think.

  4. Anonymous3:48 AM

    I just found out yesterday Phyllis McGinley, writer and poet, reading articles about Richard Yates and the life of suburbs fifties. I'm curious to read it and get a glimpse of everyday life and aspirations at that time in suburbs which I think many aspects are still relevant.
    French reader.


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