Musical Poetry for Kids

April is National Poetry Month! There’s lots of poetry out there written for kids (or for grownups who love play and using their imagination)! And for as long as humans have been making poetry, humans have also been singing poetry, too!

One great thing about poetry is that there’s no limit to the ways different people can hear one poem! In this list, you’ll read five fanciful poems, then you’ll listen to five ways classical composers have set those poems to music. Music can give new colors and perspectives to a poem – but remember, each song here is just one person’s idea of how the poem can sound! You can dream up your own sounds for each poem, too.

Here’s a fun way to listen: when you read each poem, imagine what kind of music you’d create to go along with it. Wild, surprising music? Loud and scary music? High or low music? Music for one singer, or music for a whole bunch of singers? The possibilities are endless!

Then listen to the music each classical composer wrote for the poem. Is it different from what you expected? Does it make you see or hear new ideas in the poem you didn’t imagine before?

Who Has Seen the Wind

by Christina Rossetti

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

This little poem explores what it means to notice something you can’t see: the wind. You can hear the wild, fluttering wind in the piano in this song by American composer Lita Grier.

“Who Has Seen the Wind” from Five Songs for Children by Lita Grier

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

by Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
         You are,
         You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
   How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
   But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
             His nose,
             His nose,
   With a ring at the end of his nose.

“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
             The moon,
             The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

This poem is full of surprising images, in a mystical nighttime atmosphere. You can hear the mysterious moonlight and lots of surprising sounds in this song by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

The Owl and the Pussycat” by Igor Stravinsky


by Lewis Carroll

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

Jabberwocky is a nonsense poem about an adventure – a boy sets out to slay the (imaginary) monster, the Jabberwock! American composer Carolyn Jennings set this poem to music for a choir to sing. The music has a serious tone to it, which is, of course, a joke – because this is a silly poem! Did you know that music can make jokes like that?

“Jabberwocky” by Carolyn Jennings

A Flea and a Fly

by Ogden Nash

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the fly, “let us flee!”
“Let us fly!” said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

This little poem is a type of five-line poem called a limerick. One great thing about limericks is that they are almost always funny! This one plays with the idea of homonyms – words that sound the same but mean something different (like “flea” and “flee”!) African American composer Florence Price wrote this hilarious little song using this poem.

“A Flea and a Fly” from Four Encore Songs by Florence Price

Seal Lullaby

by Rudyard Kipling

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, there soft by the pillow.
Oh, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee
Asleep in the storm of slow-swinging seas.

This poem is a tender lullaby that a mother seal sings to her baby. American composer Eric Whitacre has written a sweet setting of it for choir and piano. You can hear the shimmering water in the piano part!

The Seal Lullaby by Eric Whitacre