There are three poems I remember from early, early in my childhood. The earliest is Robert Louis Stevenson's "My Shadow," which I remember my grandmother Osborn reciting to me in her rocking chair at 1609 E. Broadway Ave. in Enid, Oklahoma--late 1940s. (That rocking chair, by the way, now sits in our living room.)
Many years later--teaching a section of sixth graders at Harmon Middle School (early 1980s)--I asked (okay, required) my students to memorize "My Shadow"--and I did, too. And more years later (February 2005) I held Logan, our newborn grandson, in my arms in the delivery room and recited "My Shadow" to him. He of course does not remember. But I do. I still recite the poem to myself several times a week--keeping it in my fading memory for a bit longer.
The second poem I remember from early on is "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (or "The Night Before Christmas"), which I had to memorize for a program at Adams Elementary School in Enid. (I've written about this before--try Google if you're interested.) Back then (early 1950s) I never really got that stuff about "dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly"--but I do now. Again, I recite it to myself several times a week, keeping it. At Christmas dinner with our son's family I always recite it for the kids (Logan 10, Carson 6), and last year they started doing stanzas, too--as did their father.
I'm not counting, by the way, such things as nursery rhymes and playground doggerel--some of which I still remember--e.g., "Ooey Gooey was a worm. / Ooey Gooey loved to squirm. / He squirmed up on the railroad tracks. / Toot! Toot! / Ooey Gooey."
The third poem from childhood that I remember well was "Casey at the Bat," a poem that I both liked and hated (it's about baseball--my favorite at the time; the hero strikes out--Why?). It's a poem that has kept coming back throughout my life. We still hear the clause "There is no joy in Mudville" from time to time, and Mighty Casey has remained an emblem of pride going before a fall. (We recently saw Oedipus Rex up in Stratford, Ontario, and I, of course, thought of Casey, who at least got to keep his eyes after his tumble!)
And in 1989, Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford published (in the magazine and, later, in a book) Casey on the Loose, which fleshes out the story--giving background. (We are selling our copy on ABE Books right now!)
But I never got around to memorizing "Casey." It's kind of long (thirteen lengthy stanzas) ,,,
The last week or so ... I got around to it. It's the 156th poem I've memorized. (Get a life!)
I used my customary technique to learn it.
- I print out the poem on regular sheets of paper, which I carry around with me, learning, reviewing continually.
- Once I've learned it, I print a smaller copy that I then cut and paste onto a 3x5 index card. In my back pocket I carry several such cards--the most recent poems I've learned.
- When I'm certain it's firmly in my head, I transfer the 3x5 card to the stack of all 150+ poems, a stack that (secured by a blue rubber band) I keep in my backpack for those times when memory fails me--times that have become annoyingly more frequent as the years go on.
- I review each poem at least three times a week--more often for the recent ones (lest they, unheeded, flee).
The pictures below illustrate these stages.
A final thought. I've noticed over the years that most people don't want to hear a full poem recited. (Perhaps I don't recite well?) Oh, they don't mind a few lines (especially famous ones, which they kind of know--"miles to go before I sleep," that sort of thing), but if I decide to launch into "The Raven" or "Dover Beach" or "Birches" or some other longish work, I soon see eyes glazing (and/or rolling), smart phones coming out, watches being consulted. I've even had people walk away. Family members.
So I rarely reel off a complete poem now--only to Joyce, who, bless her, likes to hear them--and knows what it's taken for me to learn (and keep) them. If someone asks (virtually never), I'll comply. But mostly all those poems are for me, for Joyce, for my sanity.
|Note the coffee stains!|