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poem is on left-hand white post

 

from “Corinna’s Gone A-Maying”

by Robert Herrick

 

Get up! get up for shame! The blooming morn

Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.

See how Aurora throws her fair

Fresh-quilted colours through the air:

Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see

The dew bespangling herb and tree!

 

 

For the final installment of the Bedtime Series, the other side of the mattress. Time to get up and face the day, because poet Robert Herrick has a lot of beauty to lay before us—

 

See how Aurora throws her fair  

Fresh-quilted colours through the air

 

But first, a word in support of us night-owls. Shame has been heaped upon us since childhood. Unfair that early risers aren’t yelled at by their mothers,

 

Stay up! stay up, for shame!

Shame on you, going to bed before ten!

 

No, the early bird, worm in beak, gets accolades for industry. And just because we night-owls miss out on sunrises, everyone assumes we’re lazy.

 

That has nothing to do with “Corinna’s Gone A-Maying,” which is a one of those carpe diem poems where men nag women to have sex with them. Later in the poem (full text below), after much gorgeous language and clever argument, Herrick pulls out the stops—

 

Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;

And take the harmlesse follie of the time.

                     We shall grow old apace, and die

                     Before we know our liberty.

                     Our life is short; and our dayes run

                     As fast away as do’s the Sunne

 

Tricky little bastard, isn’t he. Get out of bed, he says to poor sleepy Corinna, so we can go back to bed.

 

I left the poem fragment early one morning (early for me that is, round about nine-thirty) at the entrance to a kids’ summer camp. I was thinking of the slug-a-beds who feel as poet Charles Simic does (from the poem “Summer Morning”)—

 

I love to stay in bed

All morning

 

sentiments which if expressed would drive a camp counselor to whip off the covers and shake a body; and if said counselor happened to have encountered the Corinna poem fragment, to shout the opening lines.

 

But this is a case of my imagination overtaking good judgment. This poem-elfing was a flop. It’s always a terrible idea to post a poem fragment instead of a poem in its entirety—lines taken out of context can be misconstrued and misused as we see here—but that’s the least of it. Putting a poem about sex at a kids’ camp is plain creepy. What can I say. At least the camp is closed for COVID-19 and only a stray walker will encounter Herrick’s racy little poem.

 

*

 

 

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was born in London, the seventh child of a goldsmith. When he was a baby his father fell out of a window, probably intentionally, and died. At age 16 he apprenticed with an uncle to follow in his father’s profession. Later he  went to Cambridge, became a clergyman at country vicarage, and served for many years until he was removed from his post because of his Royalist sympathies. With the ascension of Charles II to the throne fifteen years later, Herrick was re-instated.

 

In 1648 he published his one and only collection of verse, Hesperides. It was a massive volume with over 1,000 poems.

 

Herrick was a lifelong bachelor. The women to whom he addressed his love poems, Corrina among them, are thought to be fictional. He died at age 83.

 

*

Corinna’s Gone A-Maying
by Robert Herrick
Get up, get up for shame, the Blooming Morne
Upon her wings presents the god unshorne.
                     See how Aurora throwes her faire
                     Fresh-quilted colours through the aire:
                     Get up, sweet-Slug-a-bed, and see
                     The Dew-bespangling Herbe and Tree.
Each Flower has wept, and bow’d toward the East,
Above an houre since; yet you not drest,
                     Nay! not so much as out of bed?
                     When all the Birds have Mattens seyd,
                     And sung their thankful Hymnes: ’tis sin,
                     Nay, profanation to keep in,
When as a thousand Virgins on this day,
Spring, sooner than the Lark, to fetch in May.
Rise; and put on your Foliage, and be seene
To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and greene;
                     And sweet as Flora. Take no care
                     For Jewels for your Gowne, or Haire:
                     Feare not; the leaves will strew
                     Gemms in abundance upon you:
Besides, the childhood of the Day has kept,
Against you come, some Orient Pearls unwept:
                     Come, and receive them while the light
                     Hangs on the Dew-locks of the night:
                     And Titan on the Eastern hill
                     Retires himselfe, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dresse, be briefe in praying:
Few Beads are best, when once we goe a Maying.
Come, my Corinna, come; and comming, marke
How each field turns a street; each street a Parke
                     Made green, and trimm’d with trees: see how
                     Devotion gives each House a Bough,
                     Or Branch: Each Porch, each doore, ere this,
                     An Arke a Tabernacle is
Made up of white-thorn neatly enterwove;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
                     Can such delights be in the street,
                     And open fields, and we not see’t?
                     Come, we’ll abroad; and let’s obay
                     The Proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying.
There’s not a budding Boy, or Girle, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
                     A deale of Youth, ere this, is come
                     Back, and with White-thorn laden home.
                     Some have dispatcht their Cakes and Creame,
                     Before that we have left to dreame:
And some have wept, and woo’d, and plighted Troth,
And chose their Priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
                     Many a green-gown has been given;
                     Many a kisse, both odde and even:
                     Many a glance too has been sent
                     From out the eye, Loves Firmament:
Many a jest told of the Keyes betraying
This night, and Locks pickt, yet w’are not a Maying.
Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;
And take the harmlesse follie of the time.
                     We shall grow old apace, and die
                     Before we know our liberty.
                     Our life is short; and our dayes run
                     As fast away as do’s the Sunne:
And as a vapour, or a drop of raine
Once lost, can ne’r be found againe:
                     So when or you or I are made
                     A fable, song, or fleeting shade;
                     All love, all liking, all delight
                     Lies drown’d with us in endlesse night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying;
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying.

 

 

 

 

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Bed in Summer

by Robert Louis Stevenson

 

In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candle-light.

In summer, quite the other way,

I have to go to bed by day.

 

I have to go to bed and see

The birds still hopping on the tree,

Or hear the grown-up people’s feet

Still going past me in the street.

 

And does it not seem hard to you,

When all the sky is clear and blue,

And I should like so much to play,

To have to go to bed by day?

 

 

And now for something completely different:  a short series of bedtime poems. Robert Louis Stevenson kicks us off with this sweet little complaint about going to bed when you don’t want to.

 

As a young mother, I was a strict about bedtime. By 7:30 everyone was tucked in with lights out and doors closed so I could get the break I needed. In July when we vacationed in northern Michigan I had to relax my schedule because up here in high summer it stays light at least until nine and it’s not fully dark till ten-thirty or eleven.

 

Still, I made the kiddos go to bed long before the stars came out. That was always a battle. To settle down the restless brood of bed-averse children (my four and their three cousins), my husband told stories he made up on the spot. The stories always had the same cast of characters—Jelly Bean and Winston, their friend Gloria, their enemies the Sea Witch, the Cave Witch and meanest of all, the Doodledoo. Night after night he told these stories. Year after year. When he ran out of ideas, he’d ask, “What do you think happened next?” And the kids would move the plot forward, as kids do.

 

One of my daughters has made northern Michigan her home, and so I left the poem on her bed as a reminder of those sweet moments. For any parents reading this, “Bed in Summer” is a wonderful poem to read to your kids at night. They’ll appreciate the sympathy for their plight and perhaps with a little encouragement might memorize it as a summer project!

 

*

 

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was born in Edinburgh, an only child in a family of lighthouse engineers. From childhood on he suffered from lung problems  and was often bedridden, a biographical detail that adds a poignant note to “Bed in Summer.” Helicopter parents, take heart:  this most prolific novelist and poet, the twenty-fifth most translated writer of all time, didn’t start reading until age seven.

 

He enrolled at University of Edinburgh to study engineering and continue in the family business, but spent his time in brothels and smoking hashish. He switched to law and earned his degree but never practiced, deciding to devote his energies to writing instead. He was a lifelong traveller, roaming by donkey, canoe, and ship all over the world despite frequently becoming ill to the point of death.

 

While in France at an artists’ colony, he fell in love with a married woman eleven years his senior. Later he secretly travelled to the United States to reunite with her. The voyage nearly killed him. They married after she divorced, and travelled together with her children and his widowed mother through the Pacific, eventually settling in Samoa, where he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage at age forty-four.

 

His most famous works are the adventure novels Kidnapped, Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Master of Ballantrae, and the children’s anthology of poetry, The Child’s Garden of Verses.

 

Wildly popular in his time, Stevenson has fallen in and out of favor through the years. These days he’s found his way back into anthologies. I love this anecdote from film critic Roger Ebert (courtesy of Wikipedia):

 

I was talking to a friend the other day who said he’d never met a child who liked reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

 

Neither have I, I said. And he’d never met a child who liked reading Stevenson’s Kidnapped. Me neither, I said. My early exposure to both books was via the Classics Illustrated comic books. But I did read the books later, when I was no longer a kid, and I enjoyed them enormously. Same goes for Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

 

The fact is, Stevenson is a splendid writer of stories for adults, and he should be put on the same shelf with Joseph Conrad and Jack London instead of in between Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan.

 

 

 

 

 

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poem is on futon 

 

Respite

by Jane Hirshfield

 

Day after quiet day passes.

I speak to no one besides the dog.

To her,

I murmur much I would not otherwise say.

 

We make plans

then break them on a moment’s whim.

She agrees;

though sometimes bringing

to my attention a small blue ball.

 

Passing the fig tree

I see it is

suddenly huge with green fruit,

which may ripen or not.

 

Near the gate,

I stop to watch

the sugar ants climb the top bar

and cross at the latch,

as they have now in summer for years.

 

In this way I study my life.

It is,

I think today,

like a dusty glass vase.

 

A little water,

a few flowers would be good,

I think;

but do nothing. Love is far away.

Incomprehensible sunlight falls on my hand.

 

 

If a friend told you her life was a dusty glass vase you might ask what’s going on, give her a consoling hug and pass on the number of a good therapist. Somehow Jane Hirshfield says the very same thing and she sounds . . . self-satisfied? Pleased? Zen at the very least. That’s the Hirshfield magic. Her meditative air fills her poems, dark though they may be, with light.

 

Take another look at that dusty glass vase. Yes, it’s empty, un-filled, unused for some time. But not depressing. An empty vase is rich with possibility and ready for beauty. Ready for a little water and a few flowers.

 

I think;/but do nothing the speaker says. Around her is a world of activity. The dog pushes the ball to her feet, the fig tree bursts with new fruit, the busy ants march onward. She watches but doesn’t feel the desire to be busy herself.

 

What wondrous stillness in this poem. Each experience—dog, tree, sugar ant, sunshine—is presented as if Hirshfield were holding them out in her palm one by one for us to see. My, my, look at this, she seems to say quietly. And so she draws us in to her meditative state. The short lines only heighten the quality of attention. There’s a precision and delicacy at work that bring to mind Helen Mirren’s unmatched articulation. I’d really love to hear her read this poem aloud.

 

It ends so softly that the drama and tension of the last two lines nearly escaped me. We seem to be headed down the path of lugubriosity—

 

Love is far away

 

but it’s only a set-up for the line that follows. Suddenly we find ourselves bathed in wonder and beauty:

 

Incomprehensible sunlight falls on my hand.

 

I left “Respite” on a Baltimore sidewalk in mid-summer. Since then I’ve been chiding myself for letting it languish away in my photo stream. But now I’m glad I waited so long to post it. Turns out it’s very of-the-moment and on-the-nose this early November afternoon.

 

Hirshfield describes an in-between space, one between observation and action. For some time these past few weeks I’ve been sitting in the same—but without the equanimity she has. My in-between is more malaise than meditation. More a wet noodle than a coiled spring.

 

Readers, bear with me a moment. Guests are arriving to the pity party HIrshfield so wisely avoids, and I want to look at each face before I sneak out the back to a more festive event.

 

The first guest is the re-boot of my years-ago empty nest syndrome, as all four of my children made moves—nearly simultaneously—that brought home the fact that none will live ever live within three hours of us, and that my husband and I are more and more extraneous to their lives, as it should be, of course. That guest came in early fall and got the other guests riled up, guests who had been in the room the whole year, ignored by me but suddenly wanting attention. A dead dog. A mother-in-law, who had lived with us, deceased nearly a year now. Serious health issues plaguing my extended family.

 

And then there are the lesser guests who behave as if they were the guests of honor: a finished novel sitting in the proverbial drawer, a novel half-heartedly and unsuccessfully marketed and subsequently rejected; a new novel stale and plodding; new writing projects begun and abandoned; my blog set aside and now so judgy of my laziness.

 

Tiny problems. First-world problems. Nothing to look at here except I’m usually a duck’s back to problems. And getting side-tracked by such commonplace experiences was making me feel like  . . . well, like a dusty glass vase.

 

Enter this poem, which I had positioned mostly as a pun (the futon inviting “Respite,” you see). The poem has tapped me on the shoulder, very gently, and said, There’s better light over here, let’s examine these things together. The in-between place, it turns out, isn’t a dead zone, it isn’t a place where nothing happens and nothing ever will because I was never good enough anyway and people get sick and the lucky ones grow old and die withered. No. It’s a mid-day nap. It’s a sit-down. It’s a church pew. It’s a fertile place, a place to gather the energy of wonder and stillness.

 

I’ve mentioned before a favorite poem of childhood, one I can still recite from memory, and I do hate to repeat myself, but A.A. Milne’s “Halfway Down” belongs to this moment and it’s running through my head, so here goes. The poem begins:

 

Halfway down the stairs

is a stair

where I sit

 

In the second stanza Milne switches to “halfway up the stairs” (emphasis mine), then muses that this chosen step is not up and not down but has its own geography—

 

It isn’t really

Anywhere!

It’s somewhere else

Instead!

 

Even as a little girl I liked that halfway down stair. A good place to observe what was happening above or below, and there was always a lot going on in our household of thirteen. Anyway, that’s where I am, halfway down the stairs, patient now, observing, biding my time to move, up or down, I don’t know.

 

I’m re-posting Hirshfield’s biography from a past post:

 

Jane Hirshfield was born in 1953 in New York City.  After graduating from the first Princeton class to include women, she moved to San Francisco to study Zen Buddhism for eight years. She’s published eight books of poetry and, as a translator of Japanese poetry, helped popularize tanka in the United States. She’s won numerous awards and taught at many universities including Stanford, Duke and Univerisity of Virginia.

 

I read an interview with her from PalettePoetry.com and came across this question-and-answer which I suspect is relevant to “Ask Much, the Voice Suggested.”

 

Q:  HOW DO YOU CLIMB OUT OF A DRY SPELL OF WRITING?

JH: By longing. I grow lonely for poems, the way you would grow lonely for an absent lover. And then they return. Longing is the ladder we meet on.

 

 

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There’s a sad nip in the air this morning, a reminder to get the rest of my summer beach posts up before they’re as out-of-date as puka shells and jellies.

I count myself among the most fortunate of souls that I got to return to Maryland this summer to spend a week at the beach with my family. There’s much to love–blue crabs, Fractured Prune doughnuts, steak-and-cheese subs, the stifling, warms-the-soul humidity inescapable on the Delmarva peninsula. And of course the accent. A week gives me just enough time to re-claim it. Unfortunately by the time I hit the Ohio Turnpike on my way back to Michigan I’ve already lost it. So I’ve titled this post to honor the beautiful way Marylanders speak the English language. (If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing it, link here to enjoy how we say “o’s” and here for an exaggerated version of common Maryland expressions.)

On with post. I had snippets of poems–by that I mean I snipped a few lines out of longer poems–that referenced the ocean, and I put them all over Bethany Beach one afternoon while on a boardwalk outing with a few nieces and a nephew.

I left the opening lines of  “Here With Your Memory” by Alejandro Murguía on a fence post next to some mismatched beach shoes.

poem is on fence next to shoes

The brooding, windy weather was just right for this one:

IMG_3278

(The poem is not on line and is too long for me to type out, at least at this moment. If I feel less lazy when I finish this post, I’ll type it out at the bottom.)

I gave my nieces, Sophia and Georgie, a single line from Keats’ “Endymion” to hold because the wind was blowing everything this way and that, and because they are beauties, even though Sophia is uncharacteristically scowling.

IMG_3290

These two have since returned to Ecuador with a piece of my heart. (A good time to welcome to my sister Josie’s Ecuadorian students. Hello to all and thanks for reading Poem Elf! Good luck this year.)

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The joy beauty gives may be forever, but beauty itself is ephemeral, so I asked Sophia to let the piece of paper blow away. See it in the bottom right of the photo.

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Still, I have faith in Keats’ words that follow this line–“it will never pass/into nothingness.” You can see the paper, just above the dune grass in the dead center of the picture, on its way to places unknown.

IMG_3292

You can read the complete poem here.

On a storage shed for umbrella rentals I left a famous bit from Yeats’ “The Second Coming”:

IMG_3296

It’s a poem that always seems horribly relevant, but perhaps never as much as in these times.

IMG_3294

Link to the complete poem here.

And finally, at our favorite store, the ubiquitous Candy Kitchen, I left “A Modest Love” by Elizabethan poet Sir Edward Dyer. My sister Susie, long-time president of the Candy Club, sits surrounded by this bunch of beggars. The poem is behind her on the door, just above little Emily’s pink hair flower.

IMG_3307

I love these lines so much I’m using them as the epigraph for the novel I’m working on.

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Link to the complete poem here.

Speaking of love and sweet beach treats, my niece Emily told me she does not like caramel corn. She seems downright hostile to it. But not little Georgie:

IMG_3308

Okay, I’ve decided I owe it to Murguía to type out his poem. The longing and nostalgia here is something I’m feeling now as I sit at my desk in Michigan, remembering summers of long ago at the beach, and one summer in particular with a red-haired boy who lives with me now.

(I’ve posted one of Murguía’s poems in the past–link here.)

Here With Your Memory

by Alejandro Murguía

Today I sat down pensive

staring at the sea

pinned like a prisoner

to another day

curled up

made a conch

by all fecund things you are

on this earth and in the sea

the cry of seagulls

the clouds like a reflection of the water

the sky like your caress that June day

of which the only thing left is this moment

these seconds when you surge again

out of the sea

your bathing suit pure foam

splendid, young mermaid

with bronzed arms

hair the color of burnt sand

woman made of spells, aquatic flowers

of earth, mountains, herbs

made into poems

because we were together that afternoon

and were transformed into calendars

where the days always return

with their same destinies

the same lovers and enemies as always

only you and I

because we were

a gush of water, music,

the ruby of a kiss

falling into the depths

where across all the years

we see each other

as we were that day

poor and in love with the whole world.

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I’m still a schoolgirl when it comes to summer’s end.  I dread the fall.  Pumpkins and football games make me anxious. Give me hot, humid weather, a little body odor, and a good book every time.

 

Speaking of good books, there’s still a few weeks to enjoy summer reading.  On a friend’s recommendation, I’ve been reading everything by Barbara Trapido that I can find. (Temples of Delight is my favorite so far.)  I can’t resist British humor and eccentric characters.  Also been reading Elizabeth Bowen, another British writer.  She’s as somber as Trapido is delightful, but oh, those sentences!  I don’t cry reading too many books, but  The House in Paris left me stunned and weepy.

 

On a lighter note, my summer song this year is “Pata Pata,” by Miriam Makeba.  Link here for the best audio version, but be sure to watch this video of Makeba singing the song.  Great set, great costumes, and Makeba’s stage presence is enchanting. I’m a Johnny-come-lately to “Pata Pata”–it was released in 1957–but it sounds current to me and I can’t stop dancing to it.  Makeba, an anti-apartheid activist, breast cancer survivor (at age 18), wife of Stokey Carmichael, and international star, is long due for a bio-pic.

 

So what have you been reading this summer?  And what’s your summer song?

 

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WILL_RECITE_POETRY_DUBLIN by Richard Abrams, M.D.After my last post about the value of memorizing poetry, a reader requested a list of great poems to memorize for the summer.

 

 

 

 

My list is short:  the greatest poem to memorize for the summer is a poem you love.

Runcible by ART NAHPRO

a runcible spoon

 

Love is why children memorize Mother Goose rhymes.  Love is why poetry critic David Orr’s father wanted to hear Edward Lear’s “Owl and the Pussycat” over and over as he lay dying of cancer.  (That poem tops my list of poems to memorize, by the way.  It fairly trips off the tongue.  And as Orr’s father put it, “I really like the runcible spoon.”)

 

Most of us have memorized more poems than we imagine, if you include limericks and jump rope rhymes, and in my household, the Little Willie poems (children love these gruesome poems).  If you want to stick with nonsense and rhyme, try Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.”   It’s plain old fun to say out loud:

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

  The frumious Bandersnatch!”

(In a poetry-recitation contest I once held, a student recited all of “Jabberwocky” with a growly Scottish accent.  He won, hands down.)

The Golden Books Family Treasury Of Poetry $48 by jasperjade

 

The best resource for kids or adults memorizing poetry is The Golden Books Family Treasury of Poetry.  I grew up with that book, spent hours flipping through the 400 poems and looking at the illustrations.  You can still order it from Barnes and NobleTreasury, and indeed it is, has such gems as Ogden Nash’s “Introduction to Dogs” (still funny), classics for memorizing like Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” (Listen my children and you shall hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere), lots of Lear, some Dickinson, Whitman, Bishop, and plenty of silly poems children love.

 

On the web there’s an enormous list of poems to memorize at Poetry Out Loud.  Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation contest for high school students.

 

That should be all you need for the summer, but still, I’ll make you a list.

 

Poem Elf’s List of Poems for Memorizing

 

1.  For a first-time ever memorizing experience:  “New Every Morning” by Susan Coolidge.   This little poem is a cinch to memorize and exceedingly useful, like a breath mint or Kleenex, for times you need to start afresh.  I’ll reprint it rather than link it to encourage memorization:

Every day is a fresh beginning,

Listen my soul to the glad refrain.

And, spite of old sorrows

And older sinning,

Troubles forecasted

And possible pain,

Take heart with the new day and begin again.

(FYI, I wrote that from memory.  Just needed to check on the punctuation.)

 

2.  For summer:  Yeats’ “The Isle of Lake Innisfree.”   It’s fairly short, it’s broken up into stanzas, it rhymes and the sounds are so pleasurable they’re like caramels in your mouth.

 

3.  For fall:  “Spring and Fall to a Young Child” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Another poem that trips off the tongue.

 

4.  In preparation for Dec. 21, 2012 (the Mayan calendar end-of-the-world date): Yeats’ “Second Coming.”  Worth memorizing for its many unforgettable lines:  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

 

5.  For when you’ve got a Burt Bacharach “I just don’t know what to do with myself” kind of moment:  Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Wild Swans.”  You’ll settle down when you can say to yourself, “Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,/House without air, I leave you and lock your door.”

 

6.  For a middle-aged crisis and for a quick feeling of accomplishment:  A.E. Housman’s “With Rue My Heart is Laden.”  Effortlessly memorized and timeless.

 

7.  For a challenge:  T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It’s long, but it’s musical.  (Since my last my last post, I’ve memorized the first part.)   Or Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach.”  And Anthony Hecht’s parody of that poem, “Dover Bitch.”

 

8.  To impress:  any of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  Imagine being called on for a toast at a friend’s birthday party and being able to pull out these lines from Sonnet 104:

To me, fair friend, you never can be old,


For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,


Such seems your beauty still.

 

This list could be endless, but I’ll stop myself here.

 

Anyone have some favorites they’ve memorized?  How have they come in handy?

 

 

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