In OLDEN days the poets were less writers of poetry than they were reciters of poetry. People would gather round them in the firelight — even if it was Athens it was firelight — and listen to them recite the stories of the heroic deeds of Achilles and Odysseus, the beauty of Helen of Troy, the sad death of Njal. Even the poets believed that the stories were told to them by the Gods. The poetry was there, waiting for a voice. Poetry is easier to learn when it rhymes, is alliterative and has a beat. The muses who gave the poems to the bards knew this. 🙂
In the eras before mine, kids learned poetry in school and they had to be able to recite it “by heart.” My grandfather could recite LONG poems and my mom could, too. I think the old man had all his kids learning poetry from a young age. Anyway, it was always a part of our house when I was growing up. My dad, too. He could recite Robert Service’ “The Ice Worm Cocktail” by heart. My mom could recite “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” I like those poems but the Robert Service poem I like best is “The Call of the Wild” and I can recite most of it by heart.
The few poems I can recite (part or all) I actually feel they are part of my heart, more than words on paper. Some of them I was forced to learn in school and they evoke my school days when I think of them (“Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow — the beginning of it). Others I learned because they meant a lot to me. Some of the poems are deep, some are silly, some are doggerel, some changed my life, my way of thinking. You see, I love poetry. ❤
In the summer of 2000 I taught Intro to Lit and the first day a student said, “Are we going to do poetry? I hate poetry. I don’t get it.”
I said, “We kind of have to. This is an intro to lit class.” I taught a poem every day, usually one of those I know “by heart.” And usually I recited them wrote them on the board — possible because most of those are short, almost epigrams. She ended up loving it.
“You know all those poems by heart, Teacher?”
“Yeah,” I said.
I’ve even written some poetry. I think some of it’s good, but the one I’m going to ‘recite’ (copy and paste) here is from my Pulitzer Prize winning book of catteral, Cats I’ve Known. It’s dedicated to all the great cats out there and the humans they own.
God Makes the First Cat
God made the world in just one week,
And every creature he made unique
He made the rabbit, horse and frog,
He made the loyal loving dog.
He made the fish, he made the spider,
A hippo to make the rivers wider.
He worked on butterflies and hens,
Then he sat down to think again.
“In all of my menagerie
There’s something missing. Let me see.
A world needs horses to pull plows,
A world needs chickens, dogs and cows.”
“But when the daily work is done,
A world must find some time for fun.
Some time to frolic and to play
Some time to sit in the sun all day.”
“Time to relax when work allows
I must make something to show them how!
Someone fluffy, someone funny,
But more intelligent than a bunny.”
God decided to make up cats,
To give them work, he made some rats.
When he was done, he picked one out
And started to throw the cat about!
The cat was cute, the cat was fluffy
But he didn’t like to be treated roughly.
The cat scratched God on the back of the hand,
And God said, “If you scratch a man,
“Like you scratched me,
You won’t be forgiven so easily.”
God watched the cat for signs of remorse,
But the cat didn’t feel remorse, of course.
The cat just cleaned his ears and hair
And ignored God as if He weren’t there.
“This will not do,” said God to the cat.
“You won’t succeed if you act like that!”
“You must learn to apologize
Or you won’t be fed and that won’t be nice!”
“Now, please, a penitent meow
and you can have a bowl of cat chow.”
The cat stood up and stretched one leg,
He absolutely refused to beg.
Well, God respects integrity,
In small animals you and me.
“You’re right,” sighed God, “I was too rough,
Don’t you think we’ve argued enough?”
God reached down and stroked the cat,
Behind his ears, and down his back.
He was rubbing his hand on the cat’s soft fur
When the cat began to purr.
“What a soft and soothing sound,”
Said tired old God as he sat down.
The cat curled up in God’s lap and stayed
And so God rested that seventh day.