As usual, I sidetracked myself last time. I'd planned to write a short piece about that time (that one time) I published a poem--but after a couple of pages had gone by, I'd never even mentioned the poem--or the periodical in which it appeared. I will remedy that this time--or maybe next?
Anyway, poems and my history with them ... When I began teaching in the fall of 1966 (seventh graders; Aurora, Ohio), I didn't do much poetry. We had a dorky little literature anthology that had in it some poems I'd never heard of by poets I'd never heard of. And I felt a lot more confident with fiction, so that was pretty much the extent of my literary menu for a few years. My curriculum was a lot like the fast-food restaurants used to be before they expanded their menus. In the early days, for example, McD's had only hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, Cokes, shakes. None of that salad junk, no Big Macs, no soft ice-cream, no cookies, etc. Just the basics. And that was my English 7 class in Aurora, too, in the late 1960s.
But as the years went along, I gradually included more poetry--generally the very common pieces like "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "Paul Revere's Ride." (Very edgy stuff I was doing.)
Twenty years into my career (the mid-1980s) I was doing much more poetry--and was even requiring kids to memorize about a dozen poems every year. My own experiences with memorization I've written about here before. But just a quick re-hash ...
We didn't memorize a lot when I was in school, but I had to memorize "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ("The Night before Christmas") for a program in elementary school. I recited the poem for the parents, and I did all right--though one sequence always puzzled me ..
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;My fourth-grade brain couldn't make a lot out of that, so I rushed through those lines at typhoon speed and moved on to the more comfortable parts.
In high school, I also remember memorizing the opening quatrain from Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751):
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
’Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.
I just looked at the syllabus for my final full year of middle school teaching (1995-1996) and discovered that these were the poems (and nonfiction passages) I required my students to learn:
1st 9 Weeks:
- Frost: "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
- Dickens: Opening sentence from A Tale of Two Cities ("It was the best of times ....")
- O. W. Holmes: "Old Ironsides"
2nd 9 Weeks:
- Wordsworth: "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways"
- E. A. Robinson: "Reuben Bright"
- King: passage from "I Have a Dream"
3rd 9 Weeks:
- Millay: "The Courage That My Mother Had"
- Frost: "The Road Not Taken"
- Shakespeare: some famous lines ("By the pricking of my thumbs," etc.)
4th 9 Weeks:
- Shakespearean Sonnet--either #18 ("Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day") or #130 ("My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing like the Sun")
- passage from Much Ado about Nothing ("Sigh no more, ladies ....")
- McCrae: "In Flanders Fields"
I was learning all the poems/passages along with the students and was soon, each year, adding others (I already knew the ones they were learning--and I was getting bored with them; also, I wanted the kids to feel that they weren't in the Slough of Memorization by themselves). Memorizing continued to be a part of my teaching and personal life. When I returned in 2001 to teach at Western Reserve Academy (I retired in 2011), I had students learn three pieces each of our four marking periods. And I was still learning others. I recently counted: I now know 134 poems/passages--a total that keeps me busy during the week because--as you know--it's either review or forget. And I don't want to forget, not yet. It took too much work to get all that stuff in my long-term memory ...
But it seems as if I've once again forgotten to talk about that poem I once published. Next time ... I promise ... maybe ...
TO BE CONTINUED ...