'Twas Brillig, and the Slithy Toves

Can you recite a poem from memory? Which one(s)? Why or how did you end up memorizing it?

A friend asked on Facebook about what poems people might have committed to memory. That has sparked a great list of entries.

For me the answer is "Jabberwocky," by Lewis Carroll. For some reason--lost now in the mists of time--when I was in junior high or high school I thought it would be a great birthday present for Older Brother #3 if I memorized this and delivered it with dramatic flair. Turned out I'd guessed right; he seemed delighted, if somewhat puzzled.

I can still deliver chunks of it, although it's not seamless from beginning to end; I may need to brush up on it now, along with the fencing thrusts that go with "One-two! One-two! And through and through! His vorpal blade went snicker-snack. He left him dead, and with his head, he went galumphing back."

Then there are the arms thrown wide and the loving embrace that goes with, "'O hast thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy! Oh frabjous day! Caloo! Callay!' He chortled in his joy."

Thinking about this reminded me of Mom and the many poems she had committed to memory as a child, when teachers required kids to memorize and deliver poems before the entire class.

When she recited poetry she did so with dramatic flair--could be where I got that. Exaggerated expressions, eyebrows raised high, voice intonation dropping to a whisper where the words called for that.

She sometimes did "Little Orphan Annie". All I can remember of that one is the opening line: "Little Orphan Annie's come to our house to stay."

One of my favorites was "Hiding," which I had thought was a Robert Louis Stevenson poem included in the book A Child's Garden of Verses, since I remember reading that so many times as a child. Turns out it's by Dorothy Keeley Aldis. "I'm hiding, I'm hiding, and no one knows where, for all they can see is my toes and my hair. And I just heard my father say to my mother, 'But darling, he must be somewhere or other!'"

Another favorite was indeed by Robert Louis Stevenson--"The Swing": "How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue? Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing, ever a child can do."

We had a swingset in the back yard next to the grape arbor that Younger Sister and I played on for hours. I don't remember feeling as if I was going up into blue air, exactly, but I do remember the soaring freedom and pumping my legs as hard as I could to try to get the swing up higher and higher until I shrieked half in fear, half in excitement.

My very earliest memory as a child actually involves my mother and poetry, in this case by yours truly. I'm not sure it would be in my memories now if it weren't for the number of times Mom told this story, which makes me think yet again that memories are created primarily through repetition.

The memory consists of fragments: Outside in the back yard. Billowing whiteness around me and the whooshing sound that went with it. Blue sky, sunshine, green grass underneath.

My mother's version: I was 2-1/2 or 3. (She actually wrote this all down on a piece of paper and dated it, so if I can find that I'll have documentary evidence of the exact date.)

She was outside hanging sheets on the clothesline while the breeze whipped them around, and I was playing under the clothesline.

I paused in my play, looked up, and said, "Oh Mother, oh Mother, what a beautiful day!"

Just then the wind died down. I paused, then went on, "The flowers are blooming and the wind's gone away!"

Mind you, the idea that a toddler addressed her mom as "Mother" sounds a trifle over the top to me. That's something that happens in books about well-bred English children, not a kid in the back yard of a house outside of Lewiston, Idaho, surrounded by wheat fields.

On the other hand, I've always loved language and playing with words. If I had recently been told that "Mother" was another label for my mom I could well have been playing with that word, testing it out as something I could call her instead of Mommy. She both read and recited to us a great deal so the possibility of me being able to put together a rhyming phrase doesn't surprise me.

Mom speaks only Jabberwocky now, and constant repetition was one of the early signs of her dementia as it developed. But when I was a child and she recited poems to me I marveled at the power of her memory.

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