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05 October 2008

A poem learned by heart is a friend for life. Which poem(s) did you learn as a child?

I learned this one. I read it when I was 11 years old, in Mrs Wignall's English class, and never forgot it.
30 days hath September,
April, June and November,
All the rest have 31,
Excepting February alone.
Which only has but 28 days clear
And 29 in each leap year

Scar thing is I still need this ditty to remind me sometimes.
posted by gomichild 05 October | 06:57
Man, I learnt hundreds of the things. One about playing in the rain, hundreds of little tongue teasers to practise elocution with, and passages from books. I used to be really good at reciting poetry.

The only poems I can remember now are Daddy, by Sylvia Plath, and "Ode to the passing of years" (or something to that effect - I can't remember the exact title). The text of the poem, I can remember though:

Time doth flit
Oh shit

It's by Dorothy Parker, I love her.
posted by jonathanstrange 05 October | 07:23
A lot of Petőfi, Beszél a Fákkal a Bús Őszi Szél, A Farkasok Dala, A Bánat? Egy Nagy Oceán, Szabadság, Szerelem. I learned Similar Cases and Very Like A Whale, which I couldn't deliver off the top of my head right now, but could easily re-acquire; they're very easy. I'm sure I knew at least the first/last stanza of The Cremation of Sam McGee, and I probably ought to relearn that. I still know this Pushkin verse I had to learn for a class, and for some reason this (somewhat tacky) Tyutchev
poem about spring coming (you can find an equally tacky English translation here under the name Vernal Waters. How many poems can one man write about spring? Too many, certainly). I can deliver a good Address To A Haggis. I'm quite pleased to know all the words to The Errant Apprentice which I happily inflict on people even if I don't have and never will have Andy Stewart's voice to deliver it with. And, as I was joyfully able to verify this summer, I still know the Rime of The Ancient Mariner by heart. (Well, OK, it's a cheat, but what did you expect? That's the version that made me learn about the other version.)
posted by Wolfdog 05 October | 07:25
Oh, and anyone who dismisses light verse as inferior verse has failed, in my opinion, to understand that laughter is as vital a human function as soppy-eyed romanticism, and no easier to evoke.
posted by Wolfdog 05 October | 07:35
Hrm. I don't recall learning any poetry. I can list all the US states in alphabetical order (easier when sung), and on second thought, I might have had to learn some shakespeare. But I don't remember any of it.

Wait--here's a bastardized memory of a Titania line from A Midsummer Night's Dream that I believe comes from a play I was in in middle school:

I pray thee gentle mortal sing again
My ear is much enamored of thy voice
and in mine eye thy sit enshrined
A lovlier man nowhere I'd find.
On this first view I swear I'd say I love you.

At some point I knew this soliloquy even beyond the first two lines...
posted by Stewriffic 05 October | 08:20
at the rip age of six, I read this at our "graduation ceremony". I recall being quite shocked that the parents laughed at it, since to me it wasn't funny at all.

When I was one I was just begun
When I was two I nearly new
When I was three I was nearly me
When I was four I was that much more
When I was five I was just alive
Now that I am six I'm as clever as clever
I think I'll stay six for ever and ever.
posted by dabitch 05 October | 08:25
The things i taught myself are probably still in there somewhere, but i doubt they'll reveal themselves outside their own mercurial sense of whimsical logic and timing.
If i could summon something, it would be set to a melody or rhythm or other memory trigger, unless it's something culturally prevalent that seeped in with all the other things i don't know i know until the verbal occurrence.
posted by ethylene 05 October | 08:55
The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Carl Sandburg

I remember this being on the wall of my 8th grade English classroom, with this awesome picture of a cat ghosted over a cityscape outline. It's just suck with me ever since.
posted by sperose 05 October | 08:57
I didn't know that poem until the McLaughlin/Andrew WK thing.
posted by Wolfdog 05 October | 09:04
I'm pretty sure I had to memorize "In Flander's Fields" at some point, but of course I only remember the first four lines now.

I've never been that great a memoriz'r.
posted by loiseau 05 October | 12:42
huh. I had a grammar book called Funk and Wagnall's. Distant cousins to your Mrs Wignall?



Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
posted by nickyskye 05 October | 12:45
By the way essexjan, that is such a charming and potent poem you learned.

And Wolfdog, wow, you had an intense education.
posted by nickyskye 05 October | 12:57
I should say those weren't all childhood acquisitions; I started out with that in mind and then sort of forgot about the childhood part and listed some other things I've memorized. I enjoy memorizing words, especially lyrics, and I used to kill time when I had finished my typing lessons by typing out all the lyrics I could remember off the top of my head. I still do that, albeit without the typewriter, when I'm bored at meetings.
posted by Wolfdog 05 October | 13:16
I eat peas with honey
I've done it all my life;
It does taste rather funny
But it keeps them on the knife.
posted by altolinguistic 05 October | 14:24
Yeats' The Second Coming scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid, when I had to learn it for school.
Later, when I was introduced to Robert Frost, I learned Mending Wall and The Road Not Taken with rapture.
But my first love, is and will always be, I Had a Hippopotamus.
posted by Susurration 05 October | 18:08
Here's a little bit of interesting (and somewhat earworm-y) hippo-related ephemera.

This was somehow a Hungarian/American coproduction. Here's the same title song in Hungarian. What's sort of peculiar is that it doesn't seem to have been written in one language and then translated to the other. Some lines of the Hungarian one fit the visual action while the English ones don't (for example, the order of the 'swims like a whale' / 'walks like an elephant lines') and then vice versa (the English version's 'head' and 'tail' lines are clearly synced to the visuals while the corresponding Hungarian lyrics aren't. And there are stresses in both versions that seem characteristic of lyrics being shoehorned in. I would really like to know the story behind that.
posted by Wolfdog 05 October | 18:54
Wer reitet so spat durch nacht und wind
es ist der elf koenig mit seinen kind.
posted by craniac 05 October | 19:49
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn searching for an angry fix,

Well, that's all I can remember of it on the spot, I seriously doubt that even Allen himself ever memorized the whole thing. But until I read it in middle school, I had no idea that poetry, or communication of any kind, could be so gut-level, so visceral. Before that point, I don't remember ever really paying attention to poems of any kind. I vaguely remember one of my elementary teachers reading Robert Service to us, but I was bored to tears by it.

I also had no idea that you could mention sex in a poem.

". . . and the Staten Island ferry also wailed . . ."
posted by deadcowdan 05 October | 21:37
Here's a poem i memorized by a child:


There stands death,
A bluish distillate in a cup without a saucer.
Such a strange place to find a cup,
Standing on the back of a hand.
Oh, shooting star that fell into my eyes and through my body:
Not to forget you. To endure.

Ok, a child in a movie. i still like it.
posted by ethylene 05 October | 22:06
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
by Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

posted by Doohickie 05 October | 22:12
I used to be able to recite all of Annabel Lee, and The Highwayman, and also The Walrus and the Carpenter when I was about eleven. But now I can't remember my own phone number.
posted by brina 05 October | 22:18
yes, I learned Annabel Lee and The Highwayman too! and Sea Fever.
posted by nickyskye 05 October | 23:24
I can't memorize text at all. I've tried poems, but unless I practice them everyday forever, they slip away. If I could, I'd memorize this one by Emily Dickinson.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, -
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
posted by DarkForest 06 October | 07:31
craniac, I too know Erlkönig by heart! It's great to hum it to the tune of Schuberts song. Or to listen to it as sung by Quasthoff.

Ich liebe dich, mich reitzt deine schöne Gestalt,
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt!

To be sung crescendo with menacing expression.

Coleridge of course.

Shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man
The hermit crossed his brow.
Say quick, quoth he, I bid thee say
What manner of man art thou ?

Elsschots The Marriage
It's such a cynical and cold poem. So amazing that somebody would dare to write that down in 1910.
Maar doodslaan deed hij niet, want tussen droom en daad
staan wetten in de weg en praktische bezwaren,
en ook weemoedigheid, die niemand kan verklaren,
en die des avonds komt, wanneer men slapen gaat.

Henleys Invictus:
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
posted by jouke 06 October | 08:44
We had to memorize a poem a week in 6th grade. Here are the ones I remember (mostly by Emily Dickenson, because they are short and pithy):

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Another one:

I think mice are rather nice;
Their tails are long, their faces small;
They haven't any chins at all.
Their ears are pink, their teeth are white,
They run about the house at night;
They nibble things they shouldn't touch,
and, no one seems to like them much,
but, I think mice are rather nice.

-Rose Fyleman

This is a great poem for kids, because you can naturally speed up near the end and get all breathless, then slow down on the last line.
posted by muddgirl 06 October | 10:54
Was that Queen Latifah playing Gwen Ifill?? || The Rock Deaths List