Small and Early by Tudor Jenks: The loveliest teatime poem

Twenty or so years ago, when I was a children’s librarian, I stumbled upon a poem by Tudor Jenks. It was so lovely, it sings through my mind whenever the littles use my old Tupperware tea set (in hues of orange, brown, yellow and olive green) to serve goldfish crackers and water, leaving puddles of overflow and artificial cheesy crumbs from snacks that met their demise under someone’s shoes. I don’t have daughters, but I’m thrilled that my sons all enjoy tea time in various forms.


Small and Early by Tudor Jenks

Discovered in The Poet’s Craft by Daringer and Eaton

When Dorothy and I took tea, we sat upon the floor;
No matter how much tea I drank, she always gave me more;
Our table was the scarlet box in which her tea-set came;
Our guests, an armless one-eyed doll, a wooden horse gone lame.
She poured out nothing, very fast, — the tea-pot tipped on high, —
And in the bowl found sugar lumps unseen by my dull eye.
She added rich (pretended) cream — it seemed a wilful waste,
For though she overflowed the cup, it did not change the taste.
She asked, “Take milk?” or “Sugar?” and though I answered, “No,”
She put them in, and told me that I “must take it so!”
She’d say “Another cup, Papa?” and I, “No, thank you, Ma’am,”
But then I had to take it — her courtesy was sham.
Still, being neither green, nor black, nor English-breakfast tea,
It did not give her guests the “nerves” — whatever those may be.
Though often I upset my cup, she only minded when
I would mistake the empty cups for those she’d filled again.
She tasted my cup gingerly, for fear I’d burn my tongue;
Indeed, she really hurt my pride — she made me feel so young.
I must have drunk some twoscore cups, and Dorothy sixteen,
Allowing only needful time to pour them, in between.
We stirred with massive pewter spoons, and sipped in courtly ease,
With all the ceremony of the stately Japanese.
At length she put the cups away. “Goodnight, Papa,” she said;
And I went to a real tea, and Dorothy to bed.

Leave a Reply