To a Lost Child

For the dverse prompt. This poem is my side of the conversation with Yeats in his poem To a Child Dancing upon the Shore.

I could have seen you pass on any street,
That skipping step that children keep for when
The school day’s done, there’s nowhere else to run
But wild and thoughtless home to play and tea.
I could have called you back with some excuse,
A word about your brother, mother, nan,
But you’d not wait, the wind was in your heels,
Drawn or driven, reckless, did you know?
You raced the pavement, skip-hopped cracks the while,
The minutes ticked, and knowing now, your smile
Was empty, frayed as anger in two fists¬—
He beat the laughter from you, beat it dead.
The children who run wild, wind in their heels,
Are too fleet and bright for this dark world.


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

36 thoughts on “To a Lost Child”

  1. That skipping in the beginning draws me in to the naivety of this child and then to have it turn. You’ve drawn attention with this child, in your words, to the tragedy of child abuse. This is heartbreaking….this lost child.

    1. Thanks Lillian. While Yeats was thinking of how girls will all grow to be disappointed because they won’t be allowed to fulfill their potential, I couldn’t help but think of the physical abuse that’s in store for so many of them.

  2. Ah, Jane, it’s good to see Yeats here. Thank you. I think you’ve captured a tone and a sense of despair here. Regrets and memories. Your poem is a beautifully moving stand-alone piece. Sadly the story is eternal.

    1. Thanks Sarah. I know you’d have liked us to pick a more contemporary poem that has stuck in the memory, and I agree it’s necessary to read everything and try and understand it and why it’s good, but in the end, we’re drawn to what we’re drawn to.
      My mother took us round art galleries and showed us why Van Eyck and Rembrandt were masters, and that was easy for children to understand. But she also taught us Mondrian and how to see and appreciate his work as she did. It didn’t stop her loving Fra Angelico above all the others though 🙂

  3. My take and it may be way off. Yeats is whining about how a carefree child could possibly know his hardships, and you’re saying to Yeats wanna bet? If we knew what some children have been through in their young lives we’d be forever haunted.

      1. Thank you, David. The Yeats poem always reminds me of a child I used to see playing down by the river after I’d taken my own youngest children to school. He their age, around seven or eight, wild looking. I tried to find out where he lived and why he wasn’t at school. It took some detective work but I found out that he lived with a group of homeless people, not family, and was fed by a kind-hearted restaurant owner close to the place I used to meet him. The school he claimed he went to had never heard of him. When the homeless encampment moved on he disappeared.

    1. I know what you mean, and I agree, I think children know what they’re in for, but they don’t express it as that would mean denouncing the ones they want to love.
      Yeats wrote a longer version of this poem
      I think he was thinking more of girl children and what’s in store for them. Poor children know, because there’s nobody around them would pretend otherwise, but more privileged girl children probably think life is going to be pleasant and free, but their privilege of financial ease won’t change their lack of esteem in a man’s world.

  4. A wonderfully executed sonnet. At first I felt the child’s joy, skipping along, then came the frayed smile, and the one “who beat the laughter from you”. Those closing lines have great impact. So sad.

    1. Thanks Ingrid. I think when Yeats wrote his poem, he could see that life for all girls, the kind who were dancing for their own amusement, was going to be one disappointment after the other. We haven’t moved on very far in 100 years.

    1. Thanks. I think children know what’s going on and what it means for them, but they build up walls around themselves and pretend everything’s fine. It’s we adults who are too uncaring to see the truth.

      1. They build up walls because we send them to their room when we don’t like what they did instead of talking about it. And then we wonder why they turned their backs on us when we grow old.

  5. Oh, to have a real conversation with Yeats! When I was pregnant in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Ireland, I spent most of my time reading poems by Yeats, books about Yeats, and writing poems in the style of Yeats. You’ve dug deep in this poem, Jane, and your poem pierced my heart with its flickers of skipping and laughter that end in being beaten dead.

  6. This was an excellent and poignant piece and an trjly engaging read Jane — well written, and so damned on point. Happy & Healthy New Year to you and yours. Here’s to writing wonderful poetry in 2021.

  7. “The minutes ticked, and knowing now, your smile was empty, frayed as anger in two fists,”.. this is so raw and poignant.

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