I saw a ship a-sailing,
A-sailing on the sea;
And, oh! it was all laden
With pretty things for thee!
There were comfits in the cabin,
And apples in the hold;
The sails were made of silk,
And the masts were made of gold.
—- Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme
What do little children read today? Or have read to them?
I grew up on Mother Goose. I knew scores of nursery rhymes by heart. I was a “bad eater” — that’s what it was called, or sometimes, a “picky eater” — and the easiest way to slip food past my lips was to read to me. I would sit and listen open-mouthed, agape at other worlds, other realities.
That was three-quarters of a century ago, and I still remember every rhyme. So it’s no wonder that, when I noticed the ship in the niche in our local Chinese restaurant, familiar words came unbidden from the distant past:
The silken sails, the golden masts —
But I’d forgot the rest of the rhyme, which is too bad, because it’s exactly what a modern child, ignorant of ancient confections, unimpressed by apples, would find most delightful aboard that ship a-sailing:
The four-and-twenty sailors
That stood between the decks,
Were four-and-twenty white mice
With chains about their necks.
The captain was a duck,
With a packet on his back;
And when the ship began to move,
The captain said, “Quack! Quack!”
You can’t see them? They’re right there, right in your mind’s-eye, which is where all magic begins, anyway. What magic do you remember?