There we sat, 8th graders in English class with Sister Joan. She was the quintessential teacher– tall, thin, bespectacled and very stern. Poetry was our lesson at hand. She had our homework assignment written in big, looping, chalky letters on the blackboard: memorize the William Wordsworth poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. I thought no problem, I love this poem. I knew it already, piece of cake. Then… my world was shattered. Sister Joan proceeded to announce that we must be able to SING this poem SOLO. She will go up and down the aisles randomly, and you must sing the poem to her. The poem was to be sung to the same tune of “Riders on the Storm”. I am thinking– what?? The Doors?? How on earth does she know this song? We all groaned and looked at each other nervously. Oh goodness, I thought– How on earth was I going to do this? A sleepless night ahead for sure.
The following day, English class bell rang (which by the way was a very large, old-fashioned hand bell they rang in the hallway). There we sat, again strictly instructed to sit eyes forward, back straight, feet neatly aligned under your desk and hands folded on top of your desk. Time for uniform inspection; I was all set– crisp, white peter pan collared shirt, neatly ironed plaid skirt with vest and my navy blue knee socks pulled up and perfectly evenly matched. To torture us even more– she walked up and down the aisle with a wooden ruler in hand inspecting us from head to toe.
As she passed, I was so nervous and bright red. Please, please do not pick me. (Being red is a bright beacon of despair and makes me such a target)! AND then, SLAM, down came the wooden ruler on my desk, “Miss Audra you will begin today.” Crack with the ruler on my desk, “eyes forward and begin to sing please!”
“Oh man,” I thought– cringing and turning crimson with fear. I began so softly, being careful not to make any eye contact with her. I softly and deeply whispered my tune:
“I wandered lonely as a Cloud” (Riders on the Storm)
The mighty ruler slapped the desk loudly with the beat of the song. “I cannot hear you!” she growled at me.
“That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills” (Riders on the Storm)
“Louder!” she screamed at me, whap! whap! whap! with impatience she slammed the ruler on my desk.
That was it. I was done, beyond done. I finally blurted out, “I don’t know it; I did not do my homework last night.” She glared at me and cracked that wooden ruler one more time and demanded that I write the poem fifty times as my punishment. She told me that I better be ready to recite the poem tomorrow. I thought, game on Sister. This was it for me– Go Time. I am NOT going to do this again. I will take that “F” and anything else she can dish out!
This was just the beginning for me and my battles of solo recitations. I am not sure why it became such a requirement with poetry in school, but I spent many free periods inside and many nights writing out poems in repetition. Thankfully my fear of public speaking and the punishments did not deter my love of poetry. I guess my stubbornness would not allow them to muddy my enjoyment. Quite the contrary– I wanted to guard the words and their meaning from the senseless memorization! You should feel the lines and the expressions. Poetry is awesome. You can crack open any collection, read one short stanza and ruminate about it for hours.
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.( Wordsworth)
Celebrate poetry with me! Come into the OWL and grab a book, or click on my links below to read one……..
A few of my favorites are:
Jim Kelleher’s Quarry (811.54 KEL) Christmas Psalm
An Anthology of Famous English and American Poetry (821.08 BEN) Read my selection: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Sound of the Sea
This post is authored by Audra –who still digs the Doors and is humming People are Strange….