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Monday, May 9, 2011

Number 150: A.A. Milne "The King's Breakfast"

The King's Breakfast

The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
The Dairymaid:
“Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?”
The Queen asked
The Dairymaid,
The Dairymaid
Said, “Certainly,
I’ll go and tell
The cow
Before she goes to bed.”

The Dairymaid
She curtsied,
And went and told
The Alderney:
“Don’t forget the butter for
The Royal slice of bread.”

The Alderney
Said sleepily:
“You’d better tell
His Majesty
That many people nowadays
Like marmalade

The Dairymaid
Said, “Fancy!”
And went to
Her Majesty.
She curtsied to the Queen, and
She turned a little red:
“Excuse me,
Your Majesty,
For taking of
The liberty,
But marmalade is tasty, if
It’s very

The Queen said
And went to
His Majesty:
“Talking of the butter for
The Royal slice of bread,
Many people
Think that
Is nicer.
Would you like to try a little

The King said,
And then he said,
“Oh, dear me!”
The King sobbed, “Oh, deary me!”
And went back to bed.
He whimpered,
“Could call me
A fussy man;
I only want
A little bit
Of butter for
My bread!”

The Queen said,
“There, there!”
And went to
The Dairymaid.
The Dairymaid
Said, “There, there!”
And went to the shed.
The cow said,
“There, there!
I didn’t really
Mean it;
Here’s milk for his porringer
And butter for his bread.”

The Queen took
The butter
And brought it to
His Majesty;
The King said,
“Butter, eh?”
And bounced out of bed.
“Nobody,” he said,
As he kissed her
“Nobody,” he said,
As he slid down
The banisters,
My darling,
Could call me
A fussy man—
I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!”

-- A.A. Milne

Hap Notes: Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956) would be just a tad dismayed that his children's books are his biggest claim to fame. Indeed, he was pretty ticked off about it during his lifetime. Milne wrote plays, short stories, "children's" poetry, mysteries and the series that catapulted him to children's literature fame, the Winnie the Pooh books. Milne wanted to write in a variety of genres and felt he was trapped by the success of his "Pooh" books.

Christopher Robin, as all Pooh-files (?) know was Milne's son. It's said Milne never actually read the stories aloud to him, although I don't know how true that is. He was a kindly and gentle father, though, as his son has often said.

I'm not particularly a Pooh fan and it's not just because of the word, Pooh, although it can get a bit freaky. They make Pooh underwear for kids, you know. Just sayin'. However, I have to admit to the extraordinary charm of the dialog between the characters in the Winnie the Pooh books and Milne has a gift for that somewhat surreal whimsy that Lewis Carrol had.

It's interchanges like the following that are so disarming and clever:

“"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
"It's the same thing," he said.

Today's poem is a charmer with it's rhymes and rhythms but I can't help feeling like the King is very much like Milne, himself. He wanted the freedom to write what he pleased. Of course what pleased others paid the bills. Did you know that Disney bought the exclusive rights to all this Pooh stuff? That's why Disney-fied Pooh is all you will see (oh, I'm not touchin' that one.) An Alderney, by the by, is a breed of cow.

The masthead photo is of the original stuffed animals owned by Christopher Robin Milne. They are currently housed at the New York Public Library. They are the toys Ernest H. Shepard used, then, when illustrating the famous books. Milne originally didn't think much of Shepard as an artist but grew to enjoy the spare line drawings as time went on. Milne inscribed Shepard's copy of Winnie the Pooh with this:

"When I am gone
Let Shepard decorate my tomb
and put (if there is room)
Two pictures on the stone:
Piglet from page a hundred and eleven,
And Pooh and Piglet walking (157) . . .
And Peter, thinking they they are my own,
Will welcome me to heaven."

One of Milne's teachers in school was H.G. Wells and he was friends with P.G. Wodehouse (even though they fought a bit.) Milne wrote the popular play "Toad of Toad Hall" based on Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows and he often wrote prefaces for Grahame's book.

Milne's poetry collections for children, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six are quite charming.

Here's a good Milne quote: "One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries. "

You can find more Milne here:

I have to admit that I've always loved A.A. Milne's poem about the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace ever since I was a kid. It was made into a song and I was looking for the Danny Kaye version but after a long search I settled for Ann Stevens who made it into a minor hit in the U.K.

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