Memories of Memorizing Poetry

Walter de la Mare’s “Someone came knocking at my wee small door” in elementary school. In gr.7, my last round of Halloween in Winnipeg, an adult put me on the spot insisting I perform a “trick” as in “Trick or Treat” and that was the poem I remembered most of until the guy took pity on me and gave me some candy.

I can recall also memorizing William Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud” in grade 7 (1962) and writing it out complete with punctuation and correct spelling. Quite a feat even back then. (Can you imagine a teacher marking 30 of these?)

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed– but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Years later in the 1980s, my father-in-law would impress me and others at the dinner table reciting much of John Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, from his own 1940s school memory work.

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