10 of the Best Poems about Childhood

From Dylan Thomas to William Wordsworth, the poets on this list explore themes of youth and childhood. They delve into the pains, joys, and memories of their earliest days while speaking more broadly on what it means to be young and then lose one’s connection to their former self. 

 

Blackberry-Picking by Seamus Heaney 

The first piece on this lists peaks about the differences between childhood and adulthood and all the troubles one will come across as they make the transition. The poem seems at first to be about picking blackberries, but one has to look closer to see that the ripening and decaying blackberries is a picture of human life and death. 

When the berries are picked, they are at their best. These are the prime days of their lives. But, if they aren’t picked, they sit in the sun and their “blood” cools off. This leaves them to start decaying. To the speaker of this piece, the death of the berries does not seem fair. The berries, no matter how much he wants them to, don’t keep.

 

Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas 

The title of this piece, ‘Fern Hill’, comes from the name of a house in which Thomas’ aunt, Ann, lived. With this in mind, a reader can assume that in the text Thomas is looking back on his own childhood while trying to understand youth and innocence. There are references to the Bible and dreams. Thomas makes use of pastoral imagery, linking happiness to peace, quiet, and nature. The poem was first published in 1946 and is a wonderful representation of childhood and youth.

 

Discord in Childhood by D.H. Lawrence  

‘Discord in Childhood’ is a short poem that compares domestic conflict and abuse to a storm outside the home. In the first lines, the speaker describes a terrible storm raging outside. There are “Two voices,” a mother and father, who in anger raise their voices. As the poem concludes it becomes clear that one voice, the father’s overcame the mother’s. The final image is of the “silence of blood”. The poem is dark, dreary, and at times, frightening. Lawrence addresses the larger topics of the text directly but through poetic diction that only increases the drama. He easily accomplishes the task of setting the reader into the mind of a child made to live in a world surrounded by anger, rage, metaphorical lashes and constant conflict. 

 

En Famille, 1979 by Paul Durcan 

This is a short poem that speaks on the difficulties associated with aging and a desire to return to a simpler past. The first lines present the speaker’s desire: that he be returned to the “dark school” that was childhood. In the second he explains that in his youth, he felt that he knew how the world worked. Tiny things were tiny and massive things were massive, there was no crossover. The poem engages with themes of childhood, knowledge and ageing. 

 

Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth 

One of Wordsworth’s most complex and moving poems, ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’ speaks about growing up and losing one’s connection to nature. The poem begins with the speaker mourning the loss of his youth and the deeper connection he used to have to the natural world. The speaker reflects on what it means to age, and in the fifth stanza declares that we come from a world that is more heavenly than earth.

Wordsworth’s speaker concludes the poem by declaring that he can always look to his past, his memories, to remember what it was like to live as a child. He can channel these experiences into the present and live as he used to. This is how he regains the joy of the past and lives happily with his mortality.

 

A Christmas Childhood by Patrick Kavanagh

In  ‘A Christmas Childhood’ the speaker looks back on his youth from the point of view of adulthood, he’s able to fully understand the wonder of those moments and how that wonder disappears over time as one ages. Christmas, the poet comes to understand, is a time that brings one back to their youthful happiness and innocence. 

 

Like Dolmens Round My Childhood, the Old People by John Montague 

This poem takes the reader through a series of profiles. Each depicts the nature, habits, and quirks of someone the speaker knew in their youth. These folks are all old. Some lived good and kind likes, like Jamie in the second stanza. While others, like Maggie, had been cruel and disparaging throughout their days. 

The poem concludes with a stanza that expresses the fact that all these people are now dead. They, like the dolmens they’re compared to in the first line of the poem, are solid, strong, and powerful in their histories. In the last lines, the speaker expresses relief in the fact that their memories have passed from his life, freeing him. 

 

Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne

‘Now We Are Six’ is a light-hearted poem that is told from the perspective of a young child who takes the reader through the previous years of their life. The poem begins with a series of short lines that describe a speaker’s life, years one-five. Each year things improve a little for them. They become more and more the person they are today. But, it is not until they reach six years old that they are content. After turning six, they are happy to remain that age forever. The child speaker feels as if they are as clever and happy as they could ever be and see no reason to age any further. 

 

To My Nine-Year-Old Self by Helen Dunmore

‘To My Nine-Year-Old Self’  is directed at the poet’s younger self and is an attempt to reconcile how she has changed. The poem begins with the speaker asking her younger self to sit still explain how life has changed since they were the same person. One of the main focuses in the text is the body. She recalls her previous disregard for her own safety and contrasts it with the total concern she holds now. The speaker knows very well her younger self does not want to hear an old person talk. Therefore she releases the memories of the child she used to be back into the world where she can run and swim. 

 

Parents by Paul Durcan

In ‘Parents’ Durcan uses the sea as an extended metaphor. He speaks on the fear all parents have as they try to bond with and understand their child. The speaker compares the gulf between what a parent sees and what a child understands. There is something massive and impenetrable between the parents and their child. They can’t get through it, nor can the child communicate clearly from within it. 

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