A friend of mine came over the other day (I was experimenting with the concept of stuffing donuts with bacon–no, seriously–and he came to help taste test), and as it inevitably does with him, the conversation turned to literature. The friend in question is Brian “The Lovebasket” Ellingford, the AP English teacher at Orem High School, and a very thoughtful, almost philosophical man when it comes to the subjects of reading, writing, and education. Somewhere in the middle of talking about what kids should read, what kids actually read, what can be done to help kids read more, and so on, the conversation turned to poetry, and we started to realize just how many poems we both had memorized. I can rip out a pretty good array of poems, everything from THE JABBERWOCKY to DEATH OF A BALL TURRET GUNNER and all kinds of stuff in between. How many do you know? I hope that it’s more than you think.
Being naturally competitive, we decided to a) memorize more and b) turn it into a contest. Starting this week, and proceeding through the summer, we’re going to memorize one poem a week, that’s 12 poems. Want to join us? Here’s the rules:
1. It must be a poem you don’t already have fully memorized, but it’s okay if you already have some of it memorized.
2. You must recite the entire poem, out loud, from memory, for at least one other person, on Sunday. That gives you slightly less than a full week for the first one, so pick something easy.
3. There are no length restrictions, but if all your poems are little quatrains or tiny nursery rhymes you’re cheating in spirit. Throw a few multi-stanza poems in there; you can do it.
4. No William Carlos Williams allowed. There will be zero tolerance on this point.
5. Everything is done completely on the honors system. If you say you did it, we believe you.
For my first poem, I’m going to start with one of my favorites: High Waving Heather, by Emily Bronte. It’s a passionate, almost violent depiction of a thunderstorm on the English moor, told with Bronte’s typical intensity. I already have the first stanza cold, so all I need to do is nail down the other two. Here’s the full text:
High waving heather, ‘neath stormy blasts bending,
Midnight and moonlight and bright shining stars;
Darkness and glory rejoicingly blending,
Earth rising to heaven and heaven descending,
Man’s spirit away from its drear dongeon sending,
Bursting the fetters and breaking the bars.
All down the mountain sides, wild forest lending
One mighty voice to the life-giving wind;
Rivers their banks in the jubilee rending,
Fast through the valleys a reckless course wending,
Wider and deeper their waters extending,
Leaving a desolate desert behind.
Shining and lowering and swelling and dying,
Changing for ever from midnight to noon;
Roaring like thunder, like soft music sighing,
Shadows on shadows advancing and flying,
Lightning-bright flashes the deep gloom defying,
Coming as swiftly and fading as soon.