So, what is your favorite poem?
Do you have a favorite poem?
Did you have to memorize poetry to pass 9th, 10th, 11th and to graduate from 12th grade?
Well, I and lots of people I know did.
I am sure most people in my generation were encouraged, well it was more like forced to memorize multiple lines of poetry. Not only that we had to show up before school, at lunch, or after school to recite the lines to our English teacher. For me that was Mrs. Waldrop for Sophomore and Junior years and Mrs. Wallis for Senior year. I do not remember who I had to recite lines to my Freshman year.
If my memory, hahaha, serves me well, it was 100 lines as a Freshman, 150 lines as a Sophomore, 200 as a Junior, and 250 as a Senior. Those of us active in Sunday School and church, especially the Baptists, were also memorizing scripture. There was a lot of memorizing going on in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Know what it served a purpose, if only to create synapses in the brain, which I realize now rapidly lose fire power the older one gets. So the more you have to start with the better.
Because of this emphasis on rote recitation of poems, some of us grew to enjoy, even love poetry, while others swore they would never read another line. Doesn’t matter how our poetry paths diverged, I bet every single one of us remembers, sometimes at the oddest times, a line or two.
Try it off the top of your head…just a line or two?
I hesitate to put these lines in quotes, because there are blanks in the lines and a lot of paraphrasing, but here is what I came up with without cheating and goggling some:
“I think that I should never see, a poem lovely as a tree..”
“Twas the 18th of April in 75 hardly a man is now alive, who remembers that famous day or year. He said to his stead if the British march by land or by sea through the town tonight, hang a lantern aloft in the belfry tower of the North Church…….One if by land, two if by sea.”
“She walks in beauty like the night”
“Half a league, half a league, half a league onward, into the valley of death rode the 600…”
“The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth down like rain upon the earth beneath, it is twice blessed, it blesses he who gives and he who receives.”
“Beneath the spreading oak tree, the village smithy stands”
“the saddest words of tongue or pen are the three, it might have been.”
“Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.”
“It was a sad day in Mudville, the mighty Casey had struck out”
“How do I love thee, let me count the ways.”
“Two roads emerged in a ….wood….I took the one less traveled by and that made all the difference.”
There are others, sometimes first lines, sometimes last lines, sometimes several lines tangled together, a bit like my fishing line often does, needing to be eased and pulled through the tangles till it is straight again. There are also familiar Bible verses, mostly in KJV although I tend to read more modern translations.
I have probably always fancied myself a great lover of poetry, but truth be told, some of it just sounds like pretty words strung together whose meaning totally escapes me. Like with novels, and nonfiction books, I like what I like. I may try something but if it doesn’t touch a cord within me, I leave it be.
Later I may return to a discarded book or poem or a baffling biblical passage finding that I have changed enough, grown enough, or simply persevered enough to understand, enjoy, or simply see the point. Other times, no matter how acclaimed a work may be, if I don’t get it or like it, I still don’t get it or like it. Others may I do not. For example I find The Great Gatsby tiresome, and only last year was able to get all the way through it. I found the characters shallow with serious personality defects, which I admit in some books I can get past, but I had to face it. I do not like the book, but at least I have read it.
Other books like Moby Dick required endurance of totally unnecessary chapters that distracted from the story, which in its basics was excellent. Two summers ago Terry and I decided to tackle Moby Dick. I got the idea that Melville was probably paid by the number of pages, but my husband found the endless discussion of WHITE fascinating. Truth–I could have gotten the story from Cliff Notes and been just as happy. But I can say, I read the whole thing.
I like some classics, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Silas Marner, Little Women, Great Expectations, but others leave me dry. I love mysteries and smart alec detectives. I love some of the newer Scandanavian writers, Jo Nesbo for one. I like a balance of chick lit and Christian Fiction, but not the glossed over life ones. Reading and discussing reading excites me.
While Terry was having chemo and radiation for cancer, I embarked on The Emporer of All Maladies, a history of cancer. It was cathartic for me. In fact parts of it were almost poetic.
To each his own! If I were a literature teacher, I would try to understand that very basic fact, that just because some lofty elitist somewhere declared a work ‘great’ it isn’t for everyone. But all of us should experience the magic of books, poetry, music, and art, even the ones we detest, for how else will I know what I detest.
I contend there is at least one poem for each and every person and that each and every person has a poem inside as well as a story to tell.
As a challenge, what piece of a poem comes to mind or maybe you have a whole one that requires little retrieval time?