Personal Choice 46
For a Five-Year-Old
A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see, and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there:
it might crawl to the floor; we must take care
that no one squashes it. You understand,
and carry it outside, with careful hand,
to eat a daffodil.
I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
your gentleness is moulded still by words
from me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
from me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
your closest relatives, and who purveyed
the harshest kind of truth to many another.
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
and we are kind to snails.
Fleur Adcock (1934 - ) is a New Zealand poet and editor, of English and Northern Irish ancestry, who has lived much of her life in England. She is well-represented in New Zealand poetry anthologies, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature from Victoria University of Wellington, and was awarded an OBE in 1996 for her contribution to New Zealand literature. In 2008 she was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to literature.
I wrote a number of poems for my children when they were very young and one of the greatest enemies for the poet when dealing with these subjects is sentimentality. Adcock displays here how deftly she can write and ‘ride’ that fine line that never tips over into any kind of maudlin. A beautiful evocation of childhood and a mother’s love.