Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The poems you know by heart

 Writing about the Lockport hike yesterday got me thinking about poems I know by heart.

I love that phrase "by heart." It implies that you know something because you love it. You love a poem and you read it a lot and you say it out loud to yourself and that is how you come to know it by heart.

I do not know all that many poems by heart. I intend to learn more! However I do know a few.

After yesterday I know Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening." I will practice it to make sure it stays in my head.

I was telling my friend Barbara yesterday that I know Yeats' "The Fiddler of Dooney." And I do! For a while at The Buffalo News I was working on a series called "100 Things Every Western New Yorker Should Do At Least Once." I took them very much to heart. There is that word "heart" again. I took them to heart and thought about them a lot while I was writing them. Which was smart to do. When you love something it stops being a chore.

Sometimes I memorized a poem, privately, to go with the assignment. That was why I learned "The Fiddler of Dooney." One of the 100 Things was Buffalo's St. Patrick's Day Parade. The Irish dancers' float is festooned with the line "And dance like a wave of the sea." That comes from "The Fiddler of Dooney."

WHEN I play on my fiddle in Dooney,  
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;  
My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,  
My brother in Moharabuiee.  
I passed my brother and cousin:          
They read in their books of prayer;  
I read in my book of songs  
I bought at the Sligo fair.  
When we come at the end of time,  
To Peter sitting in state,   
He will smile on the three old spirits,  
But call me first through the gate;  
For the good are always the merry,  
Save by an evil chance,  
And the merry love the fiddle   
And the merry love to dance:  
And when the folk there spy me,  
They will all come up to me,  
With ‘Here is the fiddler of Dooney!’  
And dance like a wave of the sea.

I need to learn to pronounce those Irish names in the first stanza -- otherwise I am good with this.

It is beautiful to recite a poem to yourself. I am a writer myself and it helps get the words of these great writers into my head. I think of Beethoven who copied out, by hand, an entire Mozart string quartet. Because it was in his heart and he wanted to get it into his head. He wanted it to be part of him.

So that is one poem I know by heart, "The Fiddler of Dooney." I also know "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," another poem we talked about yesterday as we walked the snowy trails. Barbara is part Irish and spent a year in Ireland, part of that time in Sligo. I wonder if she went to the Sligo fair! I will have to ask her.

There are other poems I know by heart, too.

I will have to get to them!


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