You’re asked to recite a poem (or song lyrics) from memory — what’s the first one that comes to mind? Does it have a special meaning, or is there another reason it has stayed, intact, in your mind?
You say this, and what springs to mind is parsing a verb – you think of the kind, the person, the number, the tense and the mood. (Thank you Mr Ferguson, Woolwich Public School 1953: it’s never left me.) Because poetry’s like that: what floats to the surface on any given day depends on all sorts of factors inherent in the moment.
The first one I ever learned (and haven’t forgotten) was this, read to us by my father and soaked up by osmosis, not conscious effort:
When George’s Grandmamma was told
That George had been as good as gold,
She promised in the afternoon
To buy him an Immense BALLOON.
And so she did; but when it came,
It got into the candle flame,
And being of a dangerous sort
Exploded with a loud report!
The lights went out! The windows broke!
The room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness shrieks and yells
Were mingled with electric bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The house itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below-
Which happened to be Savile Row.
When help arrived, among the dead
Were Cousin Mary, Little Fred,
The Footmen (both of them), the Groom,
The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room,
The Chaplain, and the Still-Room Maid.
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
Will now be permanently deaf-
And both his aides are much the same;
While George, who was in part to blame,
Received, you will regret to hear,
A nasty lump behind the ear.
The moral is that little boys
Should not be given dangerous toys.
Haven’t forgotten this one, either. It was also a soak-up job, during my teens. Because I liked it. And I was sick of daffodils and lerve and dauntless rhyming heroic deeds.
The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.
T S Eliot