Say Your Prayers


Our Daily Correspondent


Christopher Robin Milne with Winnie the Pooh in 1928.

Christopher Robin Milne’s first two memoirs, The Enchanted Places and The Path Through the Trees, are in the canon of great ambivalence books. Perhaps you’ve read that Christopher Robin, as A. A. Milne’s son and muse, grew to loathe his fame and the hordes of Pooh fanatics who stalked him even as an adult. (Milne fils supported himself as a successful bookseller; all the royalties went into a trust fund for his disabled daughter.) “It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders,” he wrote, “that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son.”

But the books don’t read as an angry indictment so much as an attempt to grapple with his condition. Yes, there’s some record straightening—but the author’s sense of frank exploration is sympathetic, and it feels honest. Although he’d ultimately detach from his remote parents, his feelings are complex, and he describes his experiences with sensitivity and nuance. Milne died in 1996; in later life, he’d even come to embrace his father’s legacy, gamely showing up at the occasional official event coming to appreciate the love of nature bestowed by his Sussex childhood.

But one imagines he never grew to love the poem “Vespers,” published in 1924’s smash When We Were Very Young—it was the first Christopher Robin poem. Both as verse and in its musical setting by Harold Fraser-Simson, it became an instant classic, so beloved that a miniature version of the poem was contributed to the library of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. It may be the most sentimental, saccharine, infantile poem ever written, and even a Pooh fanatic must concede that it gives teeth to Dorothy Parker’s notorious indictment.

Little boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head,
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

God bless Mummy. I know that’s right
Wasn’t it fun in the bath tonight?
The cold’s so cold, and the hot’s so hot
Oh! God Bless Daddy—I quite forgot.

 If I open my fingers a little bit more
I can see Nanny’s dressing gown on the floor
It’s a beautiful blue, but it hasn’t a hood
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good.

Mine has a hood and if I lie in bed
And put the hood right over my head
And I shut my eyes and curl up small
And nobody knows I am there at all.

Oh! Thank you God, for a lovely day
And what was the other I had to say?
I said “Bless Daddy” so what can it be?
Oh! Now I remember it. God Bless me.

Little boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head,
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.

Christopher Robin, who was only three when the poem was written, really came to loathe it when he was sent away to boarding school. As you might imagine, other adolescent boys were not going to forgo such rich material, and their constant taunts caused him, he writes, “toe-curling, fist-clenching, lip-biting embarrassment.” Tormentors were particularly fond of singing the “Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares! / Christopher Robin is saying his prayers,” part, although they also enjoyed the not-particularly-clever parody, “Hush, hush, nobody cares! / Christopher Robin has fallen downstairs.” Christopher Robin said later that this is why he took up boxing.

Just take a moment to imagine that while the grown-up Christopher Robin was serving in the Middle East with the Royal Engineers, this was being played all over England:

It should come as no surprise that he had a few memoirs in him—adult ones.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.