David McCord: A Prolific Poet

by on January 16th, 2011
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The first poem I memorized was “Every Time I Climb a Tree” by David McCord. His poem touched me, and I never forgot the words or how I felt when I looked around from the tip-top of a tree-seeing all the things there were to see.

David Thompson Watson McCord was born on December 17, 1897 and he lived 99 years. David, was an abounding poet for both children and adults. He was born in New York, lived in New Jersey for a few years, but spent much of his growing up years around Portland, Oregon; there McCord said, he developed a love of words, and a fine sense of rhythm from reading aloud the Bible to his elderly grandmother.

He went to Harvard University and received honorary degrees from twenty-two other universities. His first book was Oddly Enough, published in 1926. “Some said it was good and some bad,” he wrote. “I dare say it was.” His sense of humor came through in his writings. In 1956, he was awarded Harvard’s first honorary doctorate of humane letters. He worked as executive director of Harvard’s College Fund for 38 years. In 1977, he received the first national award for Excellence in Poetry for Children from the National Council of Teachers of English.

A Quote from David McCord, to His Friend Lee Bennett Hopkins

“Poetry is so many things besides the shiver down the spine. It is a new day lying on a new doorstep. It is what will stir the weariest mind to write. It is the inevitable said so casually that the reader or listener thinks he said it himself. It is the fall of syllables that run as easily as water flowing over a dam. It is fireflies in May, apples in October, the wood fire burning when no one looks up from an open book. It is the best dream from which one ever waked too soon. It is Peer Gynt and Moby Dick in a single line. It is the best translation of words that do not exist. It is hot coffee dripping from an icicle. It is the accident involving sudden life. It is the calculus of the imagination. It is the finishing touch to what one could not finish. It is a hundred things as unexplainable as all our foolish explanations.”


Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
I scrape a leg
Or skin a knee
And every time I climb a tree
I find some ants
Or dodge a bee
And get the ants
All over me

And every time I climb a tree
Where have you been?
They say to me
But don’t they know that I am free
Every time I climb a tree?
I like it best
To spot a nest
That has an egg
Or maybe three

And then I skin
The other knee
But every time I climb a tree
I see a lot of things to see
Swallows, rooftops and TV
And all the fields and farms there be
Every time I climb a tree
Thought climbing may be good for ants
It isn’t awfully good for pants
But still it’s pretty good for me
Every time I climb a tree


In analyzing the poem, the repetition of the words, every time I climb a tree, is stressing how many trees the poet has climbed.

The second stanza speaks of being free. He didn’t understand why they couldn’t realize the freedom he felt, but being a climber of trees myself, I understand.

The third stanza describes the dangers in skinning the other knee, but he wants to make it plain that the danger is well worth the view.

This timeless poem has touched many a young minds, and it will continue to do so far into the future.

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