Sample Children's Poetry

A peanut sat on a railroad track

A peanut sat on a railroad track,
His heart was all a-flutter.
The five-fifteen came rushing by –
Toot toot! Peanut butter!

                  -  anonymous


Once riding in old Baltimore,
    Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
    Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
    And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
    His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

I saw the whole of Baltimore
    From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
    That's all that I remember.

                - Countee Cullen


I have heard of poor.
It means hungry, no food,
No shoes, no place to live.
Nothing good.

It means winter nights
And being cold.
It is lonely, alone,
Feeling old.

Poor is a tired face.
Poor is thin.
Poor is standing outside
Looking in.

            - Myra Cohn Livingston

Subway Rush Hour

breath and smell
so close
black and white
so near
no room for fear.

            - Langston Hughes

The Golf Links

The golf links lie so near the mill
    That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
    And see the men at play.

            - Sarah N. Cleghorn

But Only the Breeze . . .

I found the robin lying still
beside the shed.
Its orange side was down,
Its wings half spread.

I wanted it to flutter, rise
up to the sky;
I begged it to try . . .

But only the breeze
that lifted a wing,
only the breeze,
did anything.

            - Constance Levy

The Bird of Night

A shadow is floating through the moonlight.
Its wings don’t make a sound.
Its claws are long, its beak is bright.
Its eyes try all the corners of the night.
It calls and calls: all the air swells and heaves
And washes up and down like water.
The ear that listens to the owl believes
In death. The bat beneath the eaves,
The mouse beneath the stone are still as death.
The owl’s air washes them like water.
The owl goes back and forth inside the night,
And the night holds its breath.

                       - Randall Jarrell

While I Slept

While I slept, while I slept and the night grew colder
She would come to my room, stepping softly
And draw a blanket around my shoulder
While I slept.

While I slept, while I slept in the dark, still heat
She would come to my bedside, stepping coolly
And smooth the twisted, troubled sheet
While I slept.

Now she sleeps, sleeps under quiet rain
While nights grow warm or nights grow colder.
And I wake, and sleep, and wake again
While she sleeps.

                        - Robert Francis

What Has Happened to Lulu?

What has happened to Lulu, mother?
        What has happened ot Lu?
There's nothing in her bed but an old rag doll
        And by its side a shoe.

Why is her window wide, mother,
        The curtain flapping free,
And only a circle on the dusty shelf
        Where her money-box used to be?

Why do you turn your head, mother
        And why do the tear-drops fall?
And why do you crumple that note on the fire
        And say it is nothing at all?

I woke to voices last night,
        I heard an engine roar.
Why do you tell me the things I heard
        Were a dream and nothing more?

I heard someone cry, mother,
        in anger or in pain,
But now I ask you why, mother,
        You say it was a gust of rain.

Why do you wander about as though
        You don't know what to do?
What has happened to Lulu, mother?
        What has happened to Lu?

                    - Charles Causley

Listening to grownups quarreling,

standing in the hall against the
wall with my little brother, blown
like leaves against the wall by their
voices, my head like a pingpong ball
between the paddles of their anger:
I knew what it meant
to tremble like a leaf.
Cold with their wrath, I heard
the claws of rain
pounce. Floods
poured through the city,
skies clapped over me,
and I was shaken, shaken
like a mouse
between their jaws.

                     - Ruth Whitman


I used to think that grown-up people chose
To have stiff backs and wrinkles round their nose,
And veins like small fat snakes on either hand,
On purpose to be grand.
Till through the banisters I watched one day
My great-aunt Etty’s friend who was going away,
And how her onyx beads had come unstrung.
I saw her grope to find them as they rolled;
And then I knew that she was helplessly old,
As I was helplessly young.

                           - Frances Cornford


Watch out.
Mad, he snaps
like a turtle.
His face blows up
His mouth thins
to a frown.
He sticks his neck out
in a dare.
Quick as he strikes,
he draws back,
hiding in his tough
hard shell.

                - Janet S. Wong

The Knowledgeable Child

I always see, - I don't know why, -
If any person's going to die.

That's why nobody talks to me.
There was a man who came to tea,

And when I saw that he would die
I went to him and said "Good-bye,

"I shall not see you any more."
He died that evening.  Then, next door,

They had a little girl: she died
Nearly as quick, and Mummy cried

And cried; and ever since that day
She's made me promise not to say.

But folks are still afraid of me,
And, when they've children, nobody

Will let me next or nigh to them
For fear I'll say good-bye to them.

                        - L. A. G.  Strong

There Was a Man

There was a man who never was.
    This tragedy occurred because
His parents, being none too smart,
Were born two hundred years apart.

                        - Dennis Lee

Whisky Frisky

Whisky, frisky,
Hipperty hop,
Up he goes
To the tree top!
Whirly, twirly,
Round and round,
Down he scampers
To the ground.
Furly, curly,
What a tail,
Tall as a feather,
Broad as a sail.
Where’s his supper?
In the shell.
Snappy, cracky,
Out it fell.

            - Anonymous

I like you, you like me,
Let’s get together and kill Barney,
With a great big shot gun,
We’ll blow off Barney’s head.
Whoops, I think that Barney’s dead.

          -  Jennie, age nine

Diarrhea – Thpht! Thpht!
Diarrhea – Thpht! Thpht!
Some people say it’s funny,
But it’s really, really yummy!

Diarrhea – Thpht! Thpht!
Diarrhea – Thpht! Thpht!
Diarrhea – Thpht! Thpht!
Diarrhea – Thpht! Thpht!

Some people say it’s gross,
But it’s really great on toast!
Diarrhea – Thpht! Thpht!
Diarrhea – Thpht! Thpht!

                 -  John, elementary school

I'm looking over my dead dog Rover
Lying on the bathroom floor.
One leg is broken,
The other one's lame,
The third got run over
By my 'lectric train.
There's no use explaining,
The one remaining
Is stuck in the bathroom door.
I'm looking over my dead dog Rover,
Lying on the bathroom floor.

                    - Nancy, day camp, circa 1969.

There's a place in France
Where the naked ladies dance,
But the men don't care
'Cause they chew their underwear.

                    - Kari, Minnesota, mid-1970's.

Helen had a tugboat, Helen had a bell.
Every time she rang it, the tugboat went to . . .
Hello operator, give me number nine,
And if she doesn't answer, give me back my dime.
Behind the refrigerator was a piece of glasss.
Helen slipped on it and broke her little . . .
Ask me no more questions, I'll tell you no more lies.
That's what Helen told me the night before she died.

                    - Lindalee, Brownie day camp, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, circa 1959

I'm Popeye the sailor man,
I live in a garbage can.
I eat all the worms
And spit out the germs,
I'm Popeye the sailor man, toot-toot!

                    - Hank, circa 1957

(Boy's name) and (Girl's name) sitting in a tree,
First comes love, then comes marriage, the comes
    (name) in a baby carriage,
Suckin' their thumbs, wettin' their pants, doin' the naked
    hula dance.

                    - Michelle, age six, 1994, Bronx, New York.

A boy's occupation
Is to stick his preparation
Into a girl's separation
To increase the population
Of the younger generation.
Do you want a demonstration?

                   -  Lisa, sixth grader, 1966.

Milk, milk
Round the corner
Fudge is made.

                   -  Caroline, Huntsville, Alabama, early 1970's.  "As you say it, you point first to the chest, the groin area, then the rear."

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school.
We have tortured every teacher, we have broken every rule.
We have thrown away our homework and we hanged the
Our school is burning down.

                    - Jim, St. Patrick's Parochial School, Bedford, New York, circa 1960's.

Jungle bells,
Santa smells,
Easter's on its way,
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a beat-up Chevrolet-ay!

                       - Kathy, Henry Harris Elementary School, Bayonne, New Jersey, mid-1960's.

Jingle Bells,
Shotgun shells,
Santa Claus is dead.
Rudolph took a .22
And shot him in the head.

                    - Randy, age 12, 1978.

Great big gobs of greasy, grimy gapher guts,
Mutilated monkey butts,
Chewed-up parakeets.
All this is rolling up and down the streets,
Rolling in a barrel of pus!
I forgot my spoon, so I’ll use my straw . . .
Slurp! Ahhhh . . . . .

                  - Julie, ca. 1975

Smell my feet,
Give me something good to eat.
If you don't,
I don't care,
I'll make you eat your underwear!

                  - Judy, Michigan, circa 1970's.

Joy to the world, the teacher’s dead,
We barbecued her head.
What happened to her body?
We flushed it down the potty.
And around and around it went,
And around and around it went,
And around and around and around it went.

Joy to the world, the school burned down,
And all the teachers are dead.
If you’re looking for the principal,
He’s hanging on the flagpole
With a rope around his neck,
With a rope around his neck,
With a rope, a rope around his neck.

                  - Becky, age eleven; Mark, age nine

Many of the above are collected in Knock at a Star: A Child's Introduction to Poetry, edited by X. J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kenedy; and in: Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts: The Subversive Folklore of Childhood. Josephina Sherman and T.F.K Weisskopf. Little Rock: August House 1995.

The back cover of Knock at a Star reads:
This anthology of lively, interesting, funny, and memorable poems includes works by such writers as Emily Dickinson, Shel Silverstein, Ogden Nash, and Langston Hughes.  Knock at a Star proves that poetry is not only alive and kicking, but a kick in itself!

The back cover of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts reads:
Adults my avoid discussing subjects like pregnancy, birth, death, and illness with children, but children are sure to fill in those gaps.  In playgrounds, on school buses - wherever adults are out of earshot - children chant rhymes that explain the unexplained, test authority, and showcase their wit.
The rhymes collected here, gathered by Josepha Sherman and T.K.F. Weisskopf from children and nostalgic adults around the country, say as much about the silences of adults as about the utterances of children.