Remember Louisa May Alcott’s first poem, written when she was 8?
To the First Robin
Welcome, welcome little stranger,
Fear no harm, and fear no danger,
We are glad to see you here,
For you sing, “Sweet Spring is near.”
Now the white snow melts away;
Now the flowers blossom gay;
Come dear bird and build your nest,
For we love our robin best.
In a delightful children’s picture book, Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau’s Flute, authors Julie Dunlap and Marybeth Lorbiecki offer an intriguing suggestion as to what inspired Louisa to write her first poem, and discover “her own inner music – a wild melodious river of words that could carry her wherever she longed to be” (p. 29).
Dunlap and Lorbiecki’s charming story begins in Concord when the Alcotts lived at the Hosmer cottage (pre-Fruitlands). Right away they introduce the idea of Louisa’s exuberant spirit as the seven year-old girl jumps from the ceiling beam of the Hosmer farm because of a dare from Cyrus Hosmer. The consequences included two sprained ankles and the writing of a long list of rules (given by her father) on the things “good” girls are supposed to do. Here it’s revealed how tedious Louisa finds the exercise of writing.
This would soon change.
Enter Mr. Thoreau
Because Louisa’s older sister Anna was being taught by Henry David Thoreau and his brother, John at Concord Academy, the Alcott girls had the good fortune of accompanying Mr. Thoreau on nature field trips.
The authors did a wonderful job of describing Mr. Thoreau’s oddities (“Some even said he combed his hair with a pine comb.”). He had a magical way of opening up the world of nature to the children, mixing a fairy tale mentality (describing a cob web as a fairy’s handkerchief) and the soothing sounds of his flute. It is the music he played on this flute that particularly captures Louisa’s heart. She noticed too that Henry jotted down quick notes in a notebook about what was seen along the way. Did he write such magical words in that notebook?
Henry David Thoreau opened up a whole new world to Louisa, one that beautifully accommodated her boundless physical energy. Louisa discovered how freeing the outside world could be. She soon found the indoors with its chores and rules confining, especially during the long, cold winter. But while she could be outside, she reveled in all her experiences with Mr. Thoreau, from berry picking to excursions in his boat, the Musketaquid, to his stories about elves dancing on toadstools.
Unlocking the door
Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau’s Flute does such a beautiful job of setting the stage for Louisa’s first experience of creative self-expression. Knowing personally the power of music, I could feel the sense of longing inside brought to life by Mr. Thoreau’s flute. It was a key that unlocked the door to the rest of her life.
The birth of a poem
I found myself shedding a tear when, after the long cold winter, the first signs of spring awoke the writer in her which produced her first poem. It fueled my own longing to allow those creative urges inside of me to be expressed more fully.
An inspiration to children . . .
Even though Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau’s Flute is a children’s picture book (and the pictures by Mary Azarian are beautiful), there is plenty of good and accurate biographical information in this story.
I would hope that any child would be inspired to unlock their door to creativity by reading this wonderful book.
I immediately went to Amazon and bought Louisa May & Mr. Thoreau’s Flute – I wanted a keepsake to remind me not to suppress, but to develop and express, my artistic, musical and writing abilities.
A simple song
Here’s a little fruit from my reading, a very simple little melody for “To the First Robin.” I made a rough recording of it on my iPod and I thought I’d share it with you.
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