Poetry: The Reading Mother – Strickland Gillilan

Strickland Gillilan was born in 1869 in Ohio, America and he was a famous American humorist, poet, journalist, songwriter, … He actually started as a journalist and slowly moved to poetry, especially after his first published poem gained him national acclaim. He is probably most famous for the world’s shortest poem, entitled Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes, more widely known under its subtitle Fleas:


He travelled across America for many years up till his death in 1954 and he produced a very extensive body of work: from witty novels and satirical essays to rollicking songs and heartwarming poetry. His work is public domain and is often used in greeting cards. Which is also the case for the poem below, one of the most famous Mother’s Day poems ever – this is also his second best-known work besides Fleas.

The Reading Mother
by Strickland Gillilan

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings –
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be –
I had a Mother who read to me.

I love this poem! It immediately takes me back to my childhood, because I did, in fact, have a reading mother and a reading father. In my case, it was my father who read to me more often than my mother. He loves reading and books himself, and it is my father who instilled me with this love of books that I have. Every week, we would go to the library together. When I’d raced through the children’s section, he took me by the hand and into a new world: multiple-tome fantasy series in the adult section. I escape in books and stories every day and I have included storytelling in my job as well – I will be forever grateful that my dad helped me get there/here.

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Happy reading,

Loes M.

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