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Children's Poetry in the DocSouth Collection

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Documenting the American South highlights a tradition of children's songs and poetry represented in its collections. Many of the poems in this collection were intended for education or school instruction; others meditate on moral and religious themes and reflect an intention to entertain as well as instruct young readers. Most of the poems are written in verse or lyric form, appealing to children through rhythm and rhyme, while also serving as an introduction to poetic verse form.

Unknown Author
For the Little Ones (c.1861)

Dedicated to "the little girls and boys of the Southern Confederacy," For the Little Ones was published anonymously by "A Lady of Savannah." The text contains 27 verse poems range from meditative verses on religious and moral themes, celebrations of family love, and riddles. Though the author praises in her preface both the youth who have "inspired my little songs" and "the brave soldiers now suffering for our sacred rights," very few poems deal directly with the Civil War. In "Dickie—The Boy Soldier," a mother observes her child pretending to be a soldier and describes the "struggle in [her] bosom" between loving her son and imagining him grown up and so that she can "give him to his country." A later poem, "Willie's Political Alphabet," is literally an alphabet primer of Confederate symbols and political issues related to the Civil War conflict.

Unknown Author
A Collection of Sabbath School Hymns. Compiled by a Sabbath School Teacher, for the Benefit of the Children in the Confederate States (1863)

This compilation of song lyrics was published anonymously as an instructional text "for the purpose of supplying a want, much felt in our Sabbath Schools" and contains the lyrics to 70 hymns. The collected songs are "adapted to all Sabbath School occasions," and are frequently noted as variations of other well-known hymns to which tune the lyrics have been rewritten. The song subjects range from participation in Sabbath School itself to themes of Christian salvation, moral goodness, and Old Testament parables.

R. M. (Richard McAllister) Smith (1819-1870)
The Confederate First Reader: Containing Selections in Prose and Poetry, as Reading Exercises for the Younger Children in the Schools and Families of the Confederate States (1864)

The Confederate First Reader was published as an intermediate-level textbook "for the use of children who may have mastered the reading lessons of the spelling-book." It contains both prose and poetry, which have been selected with the intention "to interest and instruct the pupils, and at the same time to elevate their ideas, form correct tastes, and instil proper sentiments." In addition to its prose selections, the collection contains 46 poems, some of which are anonymous works, ranging from verse fables to poems about animals and religious themes. Other poems are collected from various well-known poets such as William Cowper—including "The Rose" and "Elegy on Madam Blaize"—and Jane and Anne Taylor—including "The Way to be Happy" and "Contented John."

Paul Hamilton Hayne (1830-1886)
Poems of Paul Hamilton Hayne (1882)

Charleston native Paul Hamilton Hayne began writing poetry at the age of nine, and among his early literary influences were Charles Dickens, Daniel Defoe, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, and Edgar Allan Poe. Poems of Paul Hamilton Hayne (1882) is a complete edition that showcases Hayne's antebellum juvenile poetry, his war poems, and post-Civil War pieces published previously in Legends and Lyrics (1872) and The Mountain of the Lovers; With Poems of Nature and Tradition (1875). Featuring lyrical poems, sonnets, odes, and narrative verse, the collection testifies to Hayne's tremendous range as a poet. Poems of Paul Hamilton Hayne contains a section titled "Poems for Children" of 30 poems, including the moral tale "Little Nellie in Prison."

Editors Edwin Mims (1872-1959) and Bruce Ryburn Payne (1874-1937)
Southern Prose and Poetry for Schools (1910)

Edwin Mims, Professor of English at the University of North Carolina, and Bruce R. Payne, Professor of Secondary Education at the University of Virginia, collaborated to produce this textbook of Southern prose and poetry "to inspire the youth of the South to a more earnest and intelligent study of the literature of that section." Geared toward upper grammar grades and high-school reading instruction, the editors aimed to "provide students with a convenient introduction to the work of Southern writers." The selected texts are arranged thematically, and the poems are grouped into collections of "Nature Poems," "Tributes to Southern Heroes," "Narratives in Verse," "Poems of Love," and Reflective Poems." The collection features such authors as Henry Timrod, Sidney Lanier, Samuel Minturn Peck, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Elizabeth Madox Roberts
Under the Tree (1922)

Elizabeth Maddox Roberts was an important American writer whose work was at the leading edge of the transition from the romantic era in literature to the age of more realistic fiction. She worked as a schoolteacher for more than a decade before enrolling at the age of thirty- six at the University of Chicago, where she came to know the leaders of the Chicago Literary Renaissance. While she is primarily known for her novels The Time of Man (1926) and The Great Meadow (1930), she also achieved recognition for her poetry. The poems published in Under the Tree previously appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The University Record (the University of Chicago), Poetry, a Magazine of Verse, Child Life, and the Phoenix. As the title of the work suggests, many of the poems meditate on nature. Other poems engage in the playfulness of the lyric and explore themes of family, childhood memories, and religion.

Jenn Williamson