This is a very upbeat and uplifting poem that deals with what can be a tough topic— change and the passage of time. Rather than mourning what the speaker’s grandmother has lost (her youth) the speaker enjoys thinking about the life their grandmother has led and imagining the life they’re going to lead.
The Minuet Mary Mapes DodgeGrandma told me all about it,Told me so I couldn’t doubt it,How she danced—my Grandma danced!—Long agoHow she held her pretty head,How her dainty skirt she spread,Turning out her little toes;How she slowly leaned and rose—Long ago.Grandma’s hair was bright and sunny;Dimpled cheeks, too—ah, how funny!Really quite a pretty girl,Long ago.Bless her! why, she wears a cap,Grandma does, and takes a napEvery single day; and yetGrandma danced the minuetLong ago.Now she sits there, rocking, rocking,Always knitting Grandpa’s stocking—(Every girl was taught to knitLong ago.)Yet her figure is so neat,And her ways so staid and sweet,I can almost see her nowBending to her partner’s bow,Long ago.Grandma says our modern jumping,Hopping, rushing, whirling, bumping,Would have shocked the gentle folkLong ago.No—they moved with stately grace,Everything in proper place,Gliding slowly forward, thenSlowly courtseying back again,Long ago.Modern ways are quite alarming,Grandma says; but boys were charming—Girls and boys, I mean, of course—Long ago.Brave but modest, grandly shy,—She would like to have us tryJust to feel like those who metIn the graceful minuetLong ago.Were the minuet in fashion,Who could fly into a passion?All would wear the calm they woreLong ago.In time to come, if I, perchance,Should tell my grandchild of our dance,I should really like to say:“We did it, dear, in some such way,Long ago.”
Explore The Minuet
‘The Minuet’ by Mary Mapes Dodge is an upbeat children’s poem about dancing.
The poet’s speaker relays pieces of information that their grandmother told them about her youth. The speaker describes, with surprise and enjoyment, the fact that their grandmother used to dance with passion and joy. This is something that has since changed. Today, they only see their grandmother knitting and caring for family members. At the end of the poem, the speaker imagines the future and tells their own grandchildren about the dance they used to do.
Structure and Form
‘The Minuet’ by Mary Mapes Dodge is a six-stanza poem that is divided into sets of nine lines. These lines contain a clear example of repetition that separates the stanzas into sets of four lines and sets of five. The poet uses the line “Long ago” twice in each stanza, first as line four and second as line nine in every stanza.
The poet also chose to use perfectly rhymed lines, following a pattern of AABCDDEEC. The “C” rhymes appear in each line, representing the refrain, “Long ago.”
In this poem, the poet uses a few literary devices. These include:
- Refrain: the use of the same phrase or line. For example, the line “Long ago” is a perfect refrain.
- Caesura: the intentional use of a pause in the middle of a line of verse. This is usually accomplished through punctuation. For example, “How she danced—my Grandma danced!”
- Juxtaposition: an intentional contrast between two things. For example, the way that the grandmother danced and the way the young speaker dances.
Grandma told me all about it,
Told me so I couldn’t doubt it,
How she danced—my Grandma danced!—
How she held her pretty head,
How her dainty skirt she spread,
Turning out her little toes;
How she slowly leaned and rose—
In the first lines of this heavily rhymed poem, the speaker begins by referencing their grandmother. She remembers how her grandmother spoke about dancing, something that seems surprising today. Likely, from a distant perspective, it seemed odd for this person to think of their older grandmother as having the desire to dance.
This all happened “Long ago,” the poet emphasizes (repeating this phrase twice in each stanza).
The next few lines define the dancing in more image-rich terms. The speaker describes how their grandmother danced in a dainty skirt while turning on “her little toes.” This language is very upbeat and optimistic.
Grandma’s hair was bright and sunny;
Dimpled cheeks, too—ah, how funny!
Really quite a pretty girl,
Bless her! why, she wears a cap,
Grandma does, and takes a nap
Every single day; and yet
Grandma danced the minuet
The second stanza is similar to the first. It uses simple, even childish language in order to describe the grandmother’s movements and appearance. She was “bright and sunny” with “Dimpled cheeks” and quite funny. This paints a very clear and positive image of the woman when she was younger. But, it is also one that occurred “Long ago.” This helps remind readers that the grandmother the speaker knows is far different from that which they are imagining today.
The title of the poem, “The Minuet” comes into play in the second half of this stanza. It’s a form of dance that was popular in the 18th century and that the speaker specifically images their grandmother engaged in. The speaker is amazed at this image because the grandmother they know “wears a cap” and “takes a nap” every day. This is how readers are likely to imagine an older woman and it’s certainly how the speaker imagined their grandmother.
Now she sits there, rocking, rocking,
Always knitting Grandpa’s stocking—
(Every girl was taught to knit
Yet her figure is so neat,
And her ways so staid and sweet,
I can almost see her now
Bending to her partner’s bow,
The speaker brings readers back to the contemporary moment when the grandmother, no longer young, is sitting and rocking. The word “rocking” is used twice, alluding to the movement of the chair.
She works on knitted projects (something that she learned to do many years ago). The poet’s speaker sees her there moving and acting as older women do, and can picture her as a young woman with a dance partner. This is an image that clearly makes the speaker happy, otherwise, they would not return to it again and again. They may, in fact, be imagining themselves at that age and how things are going to change in the future.
Grandma says our modern jumping,
Hopping, rushing, whirling, bumping,
Would have shocked the gentle folk
No—they moved with stately grace,
Everything in proper place,
Gliding slowly forward, then
Slowly courtseying back again,
The speaker recalls what their grandmother told them, that the modern dancing that the speaker enjoys is incredibly different from that which the grandmother engaged in. So different, in fact, that it would’ve “shocked” everyday people.
Everything was different back in the day when people moved slowly and with grace. This is an example of juxtaposition that helps readers draw a clear distinction between the speaker’s dance and the grandmother’s dance.
Stanzas Five and Six
Modern ways are quite alarming,
Grandma says; but boys were charming—
Girls and boys, I mean, of course—
Brave but modest, grandly shy,—
She would like to have us try
Just to feel like those who met
In the graceful minuet
Were the minuet in fashion,
Who could fly into a passion?
All would wear the calm they wore
In time to come, if I, perchance,
Should tell my grandchild of our dance,
I should really like to say:
“We did it, dear, in some such way,
The fifth stanza is very similar to the fourth. In it, the poet again describes the way that the grandmother’s contemporaries would’ve been shocked by “us.” The grandmother feels strongly that her form of dance is better than any other and even asks the speaker if they’d be willing to try the “graceful minuet.” It will, the grandmother thinks, please anyone.
The sixth stanza contemplates the ways that whatever dance is popular with a generation says something about the way they act. The speaker considers how if their contemporaries danced the minuet, life would be calmer and simpler.
The poet’s speaker imagines seeing their own grandchild and telling them how they danced in the past and perhaps stimulating the child’s imagination.
The theme is the passage of time. While most of the poem is focused on dancing, the only reason that the dancing feels important is because of how different the grandmother is from her grandchild.
The tone is upbeat and optimistic. The speaker is happy to be telling the story about their grandmother dancing and takes joy in imagining their grandmother in a different light.
The purpose is to highlight how much things can change from one generation to the next and the way that the passage of time transforms people.
‘The Minuet’ is a simple children’s poem that explores how much one speaker’s grandmother has aged. The poem is very well-structured and consistently rhymed, making it easy to read.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider exploring some related poems. For example:
- ‘The Dance’ by William Carlos Williams – a unique poem based on a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder known as “The Kermess.”
- ‘The Dancing’ by Gerald Stern – is a piece that explores diverse feelings connected to an important memory.
- ‘Everybody Is Doing It’ by Benjamin Zephaniah – is a very unique contemporary poem that uses dance imagery.