Friday, October 10, 2008

Poetry Friday--Thanks for the Memories

Last Friday, Muriel asked if teachers have time to let children memorize poems. I'm guessing, probably not. What a shame. I understand that today's students face a slew of curriculum requirements, and today's teachers barely have time to cover those mandated requirements. That doesn't make it any less a shame.

I'm glad that I teach preschool. Reciting simple rhymes and singing songs are expected parts of the curriculum. What many people don't know, is that little children are capable of so much more. My students have happily memorized Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening and Emily Dickinson's A Bird Came Down the Walk. A few years ago, a mother of one of my kindergarten students told me she was moved to tears when she realized that her 5-year old was softly reciting Stopping By Woods to himself as they drove through a light snow. I bet that poem will still be with him when he's an old man.

Mur got me thinking about poems I've been carrying around for decades. Many of them came from Sister Genevieve St. Joseph. Barberries is one. (I tried unsuccessfully to search out the author.) A Bird Came Down the Walk by Emily Dickinson is another. I'd have to say my favorite, however, is a snippet of a much larger work. It's the first twelve lines of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages ...

I had to memorize it for an English class my sophomore year in college. I spent hours in the language lab, gigantic headphones gripping my skull, trying to nail the pronunciation. There were probably 50 of us enrolled in the class. Guess who was the only person the professor randomly picked to recite. I achieved the pinnacle of panic when I heard my name called, which was really very silly because I nailed it. I owned Geoffrey Chaucer that day. Still do.

Today's Poetry Friday Round-Up host is Picture Book of the Day.


Mur said...

Thanks, Andy! Great post! Is this what you were looking for:

by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
IN scarlet clusters o'er the gray stone-wall
The barberries lean in thin autumnal air:
Just when the fields and garden-plots are bare,
And ere the green leaf takes the tint of fall,
They come, to make the eye a festival!
Along the road, for miles, their torches flare.
Ah, if your deep-sea coral were but rare
(The damask rose might envy it withal),
What bards had sung your praises long ago,
Called you fine names in honey-worded books—
The rosy tramps of turnpike and of lane,
September's blushes, Ceres' lips aglow,
Little Red-Ridinghoods, for your sweet looks!—
But your plebeian beauty is in vain.


Andy said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Mur. (Thanks for the inspiration, by the way!)

That's a lovely poem, but it's not the one Sr. Genevieve Saint Joseph taught us. My BARBERRIES went like this:

Barberries ripe on the barberry hedge, are red, red, red.
Songbirds that sweetened the summertime mornings have fled, fled, fled.
Down drop the jolliest leaves on our heads,
All russets, and purples and roses and reds,
For this is the fall of the year, heigh ho!
This is the fall of the year.

Kelly Fineman said...

Love the post. Most schools don't make kids memorize poems anymore (heck, some don't even make them memorize the times tables!), but a lot of homeschoolers still learn poetry by heart if the blogs are any indication.

And occasionally, teachers do get the kids to learn stuff from memory. (I've got one that a few folks learned up today - I'm in with "The Raven" by Poe. My grandmother, who was also a Muriel, knew John Wakefield's poem, "Sea Fever," which begins "I must down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I seek is a tall ship and the wind to sail her by." (I'm close, at least.)

Julie Larios said...

One of the reasons I ask my students to memorize poems is because learning something by heart makes them slow down and get each syllable, each letter, right.They pay attention to the tiniest details of beautiful writing then. And, of course, memorization implies recitation - which means the poem will be spoken aloud, as it needs to be. One of my favorites as an adult has always been "Flying Crooked" by Robert Graves, and another favorite for memorization is Gerard Manley Hopkin's "Pied Beauty." If I were stranded on a desert island, I'd be glad have those two poems in my head.

Thanks for posting this.