"Little Boy Blue"

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Some childhood trauma seems to be nearly universal if you came of age at a certain time--what child of the Eighties didn't have nightmares about wheelies?--but other sources of fear are unique to the individual.  I'm not sure anyone else on the planet shared my horror at the Study in the board game "Clue," for example.  But I have been surprised at how many people remember--and not with fondness--the Uncle Arthur stories.

I haven't ever encountered anyone else who had this particular experience, but for some reason, the "Little Boy Blue" poem I knew growing up didn't have anything to do with blowing horns or cows in the corn.  I remember asking other children at school if they knew "the real version" and being stared at as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.  The version I knew--by Eugene Field--was a bit more bleak than the well-known nursery rhyme.  It begins:

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
   But sturdy and stanch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
   And his musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new,
   And the soldier was passing fair;
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
   Kissed them and put them there.

The poem confirmed my belief in the emotional lives of toys, and upped the stakes a bit, because not only could they die, but you could die as well!  The phrasing too of the child's death-- "And, as he was dreaming, an angel song / Awakened our Little Boy Blue," was eerily similar to the conclusion of "Jesus Understood," and suggested the possibility that not only could Jesus kidnap and murder you, but there were angelic henchpersons who could do the deed as well.  I imagined them toting around harp-cases with guns in them, like heavenly old-time gangsters.

Lesson learned:
Always make provisions for your stuffed animals in your will.

Field, Eugene.  "Little Boy Blue."  1888.

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1 comment:

  1. I just about hit the floor when I read this. Thanks for posting it.

    No, you are NOT ALONE! This poem has haunted me all my life. My dad read it to me when I was 3 or 4 years old and somehow explained it so that I fully grasped the meaning.

    I never paid attention to the title and simply remembered it as the Little Toy Soldier story (thus never connected the poem with the Little Boy Blue nursery rhyme).

    But like you, I was continually peeved because no one else was even vaguely familiar with the version I knew. It was always "THAT OTHER toy soldier story" (Hans Christian Andersen's The Steadfast Tin Soldier) that people instantly recognized.

    I, too, treated my toys with the utmost tenderness, knowing that they had feelings. I couldn't bear the thought of betraying their unfailing loyalty. (And for some reason, I extended that attitude to animals, too.)

    Last of all ... I'm very, very thankful that my family wasn't religious. The prospect of a kidnaping, murdering Jesus never crossed my mind. EVER!

    Thanks again for posting this. It really made my day.