Poem of the Day: ‘The Janitor’s Boy’
A high-wire act that somehow balances childish sensibility with adult competence at verse.
We have a soft spot for the 1920s poetry of Nathalia Crane here at The New York Sun, and we don’t much care who knows it. Even among the set of women poets who found fame in the 1920s — women much featured in our Poem of the Day column: Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892–1950), Elinor Wylie (1885–1928), Sara Teasdale (1884–1933) — Nathalia Crane remains our girl.
Of course, “girl” is the operative word. The Sun published her poem “The History of Honey” in 1922 and only later learned that the author was just nine years old. In 1924, Crane (1913–1998) gathered her work in a book called “The Janitor’s Boy: And Other Poems,” with an afterword by Edmund Leamy, our predecessor as the Sun’s poetry editor. The title poem was a favorite among the Sun’s readers, and it remains Crane’s most republished poem.
The reason isn’t hard to find. In ballad-meter quatrains — four-foot lines alternating with three-foot, rhymed abcb — “The Janitor’s Boy” is a high-wire act that somehow balances childish sensibility with adult competence at verse. Balances childish innocence with a frisson of coming sexuality. And even even balances the twee with the unruly: “He’ll carry me off, I know that he will, / For his hair is exceedingly red.”
The Janitor’s Boy
by Nathalia Crane
Oh I’m in love with the janitor’s boy,
And the janitor’s boy loves me,
He’s going to hunt for a desert isle
In our geography.
A desert isle with spicy trees
Somewhere near Sheepshead Bay,
A right nice place, just fit for two,
Where we can live alway.
Oh I’m in love with the janitor’s boy
He’s busy as he can be,
And down in the cellar he’s making a raft
Out of an old settee.
He’ll carry me off, I know that he will,
For his hair is exceedingly red;
And the only thing that occurs to me
Is to dutifully shiver in bed.
The day that we sail, I shall leave this brief note,
For my parents I hate to annoy;
“I have flown away to an isle in the bay
With the janitor’s red-haired boy.”
With “Poem of the Day,” The New York Sun offers a daily portion of verse selected by Joseph Bottum with the help of the North Carolina poet Sally Thomas, the Sun’s associate poetry editor. Tied to the day, or the season, or just individual taste, the poems are drawn from the deep traditions of English verse: the great work of the past and the living poets who keep those traditions alive. The goal is always to show that poetry can still serve as a delight to the ear, an instruction to the mind, and a tonic for the soul.