14 July 2004
The anonymous verses that are passed down from one child to another often seem trivial if not irrational, but some of them are full of meaning. They are more than just a kind of primitive art: they are also primitive magic. Children are ritualists; they believe in the power of certain gestures and words. Oaths and promises are binding: charms influence events; counting-out rhymes call upon the powers of fate. Even the simplest verse can have an almost magical effect. The child who is taunted with the rhyme "April fool's gone past / You're the biggest fool at last" may - as I know from experience - feel contaminated with stupidity until he or she has shouted back the magical counterspell: "Sticks and stones / May break my bones / But words will never hurt me."
From 'Poetry by and for Children' in Boys and Girls Forever: Children's Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter
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