Dreaming in Hilda Conkling’s poetry

Henry Ryland - Two classical figures reclining (c.1890) - from All Paintings via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Ryland – Two classical figures reclining (c.1890) – from All Paintings via Wikimedia Commons

Poems by a Little Girl contains verses recited by Hilda Conkling to her mother when she was aged between four and nine. They remarkably combine the spontaneity and unfettered imagination of childhood with a mastery of poetic language rarely seen at that young age. A recurring theme in them is dreaming and dreams, and indeed she seizes this as an opportunity for speaking freely of anything in her mind. She often walked in her garden or on hills and in forests near her home, so dreams and the marvelous will generally blend with nature.

Two of her poems contain the word “dream” in their title, she composed them around the age of six. One is “The Dream”. The other is presented in both Fullbooks.com and Project Gutenberg as two successive poems sharing the same title; however, checking with the Internet Archive digitization of the book, this appears as a transcription error. In it, she tells how sharing her dreams to children may help them tasting a better food, then that “their dreams may come back”, finally by feeding children she hopes to share with them her dreams.


Now the flowers are all folded
And the dark is going by.
The evening is arising . . .
It is time to rest.
When I am sleeping
I find my pillow full of dreams.
They are all new dreams:
No one told them to me
Before I came through the cloud.
They remember the sky, my little dreams,
They have wings, they are quick, they are sweet.
Help me tell my dreams
To the other children,
So that their bread may taste whiter,
So that the milk they drink
May make them think of meadows
In the sky of stars.
Help me give bread to the other children
So that their dreams may come back:
So they will remember what they knew
Before they came through the cloud.
Let me hold their little hands in the dark,
The lonely children,
The babies that have no mothers any more.
Dear God, let me hold up my silver cup
For them to drink,
And tell them the sweetness
Of my dreams.

Another short poem, composed between the ages of seven and nine, also revolves around dreams, mingling with nature and love. Note how the repeated sentence about “mist of dream” is emphasized.


A scarlet bird went sailing away through the wood . . .

It was only a mist of dream
That floated by.

Bare boughs of my apple-tree,
Beautiful gray arms stretched out to me,
Swaying to and fro like angels’ wings . . .

It was only a mist of dream
That floated by.

Dreams come also poetically inside fairy tales and imaginary stories. For instance “Poem-Sketch in Three Parts” tells about a boy carried across the ocean on the back of a bird, they finally land on an island; Part III “The Island” ends with “And there they sank down out of the air / Into the dream.

The poem named “The Dream” was devoted to fairies, and we have here the converse:


I cannot see fairies.
I dream them.
There is no fairy can hide from me;
I keep on dreaming till I find him:
There you are, Primrose! I see you, Black Wing!

Source of the poems: Hilda Conkling, Poems by a Little Girl (1920). Electronic version available on Fullbooks.com and Project Gutenberg. Checked with Internet Archive digitization of the book.

Source of the image: Wikimedia Commons, originally from All Paintings.


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