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First published in 1964, this modern edition of a classic tittle still enthralls both adults and children. Full of wonderful illustrations by Maurice Sendak. The Bat-Poet" is a haunting little story, a parable of charming instruction -- and of instructive charm. It is truly about a bat and at the same time truly about a poet. The animal is real as an animal and the human activity is also real. This union is often asserted or hoped for in current children's books, but not usually achieved. The poetry is not brought in by the back door in a mood of earnest pedagogy. These lovely verses are the kind a reflective, gentle bat would write if he were the poet Randall Jarrell.
At the beginning the little bat is sleeping snugly on the porch with all his fellow creatures. But they move to the barn at the end of the summer and he suddenly does not see why he should go to the barn when he really wants to stay on the porch. He remains on the porch (alienation!) even though he sorely misses the others. And he also begins to feel the free curiosity and adventure of the creative spirit: the little bat stays awake in the daytime and looks about him. He ponders the coarse song of the mockingbird and wonders if he could sing too. He finds that he cannot do very well with the song, but feels drawn toward the creation of the words for songs. The first efforts of the bat-poet are judged adversely by the standard of bare reality, but he continues..
The few poems have a gravity and a melancholy sweetness. The mockingbird is an accomplished technician, able to instruct the bat in his craft. "The next-to-the-last line's iambic pentameter, and the last line's iambic trimeter," he explains at one point. In the most natural way certain critical concepts about poetry and also about the nature of the poet are brought into this little tale. The chipmunk says about poetry that "when it has all the things you do, you can't help liking it." At the end the bat-poet returns to his fellow bats, to sleep snugly with them again. Since it is the purpose of his poetry to tell them about themselves he cannot be separated from them forever or he would become unreal and shallow.
Mr. Jarrell's book is wise and childlike. The child who understands its lessons will be wise and they are easy to understand because they are found in life. The Sendak illustrations are beautiful, dark, wonderfully still and magical, in an old-fashioned way..