Sunday, April 11, 2010

Poetry in motion

Yesterday's slideshow on the cattle got me remembering this story. We are keeping up the slideshow for another day, by the way. It is such a great slideshow with all these big orange steers! Sometimes I do not remember to update the slideshow but when I do, I always enjoy it.

With which, my cattle story. This happened when I was 9 or 10. There used to be this ragged old zoo somewhere in Buffalo's suburbs, I think in Niagara County, called the Oppenheim Zoo. My dad took us there when we were kids. He took us everywhere. I think I saw just about everything in our tri-county area.

They had a big herd of Scottish Highland cattle at the Oppenheim Zoo. They were big, mangy-looking animals. All the animals at the Oppenheim were kind of mangy. But they were big and orange and I loved that.

The Highland cattle were on the far end of the field and we kept calling to them but they would not approach. They stayed warily on the other side, chewing their cud.

My father said, "You have to know how to talk to them."

And he started reciting Robert Burns' "My love is like a red, red rose." In a Scottish accent.

And darned if these big old orange animals do not look up!

They all looked over at my dad and then they began walking, in a ponderous procession, across the field toward us.

I will never forget that! We all started screaming and jumping up and down. Because it was this kind of miracle we were seeing. It still amazes me to remember it.

My dad kept reciting the poem and the Highland cattle kept walking, right up to the fence.

That is why it is handy to have poetry memorized and ready to go at a moment's notice. You never know when you will need it! I have a few socked away. I can recite Shakespeare's sonnet that begins, "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought..." And I know Ben Jonson's lament over the death of his son. To this day I have no idea why I know that poem but I do. "Farewell, my child of my right hand, and joy..." His son's name was Benjamin which means child of my right hand.

I am a little like Leonard Pennario in that I have a good memory for things like that. Well, no one is like Pennario who could memorize things just by glancing at them. But I am not bad. I am sometimes surprised by how easily memorizing something can go put your mind to it. For instance I know all the parts of the Latin Mass by heart -- the Gloria, the Credo, etc. It is easy when you go week after week and sing it. But sometimes it feels funny, that for the first time in my life I have all these acres of Latin in my head.

When I stop to think about it I know a million German poems by heart because I have listened so obsessively to the songs that went with them, by Schubert, Schumann, Mahler and Brahms. Mozart, too. I can recite Goethe's "Das Veilchen" because of him.

I know Robert Burns' "Norman's Song" because of the Schubert song I love so much. But zut alors, I know it in German, not English! German poems do not count, not here in Buffalo, New York.

I needed a Robert Burns poem in English so not too long ago I memorized "John Anderson, my jo, John..."

John Anderson, my jo, John
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Thy bonnie brow was brent...

If I ever encounter a herd of Highland cattle I will be prepared!


Larry said...

Always wondered how Cattle Whispers did their thing. German speaking cows would likely respond well to Schubert, etc.

Ward said...

They'd walk over for sure, if you sang them "Ae fond kiss", arr. Healy Willan.

Bingles said...

I used to go to Oppenheimer Zoo when I was a wee lad.. it was close to my house. Though, it closed before I was even 10.