Sunday, March 13, 2011


When I went to school, we had to memorize poetry and recite before the class. I can still do a very "chewing the scenery" portrayal of Lady Macbeth's "Is this a dagger I see before me?" and a number of other recitations. My friend Vivian Harris Thomas and I were talking recently about how she hated it when Mrs. Vance made us memorize and recite "Paul Revere's Ride" and "When The Frost Is On The Punkin'", but there she and I were, in a restaurant, reciting that James Whitcomb Riley poem 50+ years later! I told Vivian that people would be astounded, when every April 18th I would recite:

"Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-five"

I am usually stopped about that time, either by groans, laughs or requests!

I don't think there is much memorization in schools today. Poems by James Whitcomb Riley were popular to recite in my mother's generation and obviously, also in my generation. Into her eighties, my mother could still recite "The Duel" ("The Gingham Dog And The Calico Cat") by Eugene Field and "Little Orphant Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley. When I quizzed her about the "t" on the end of "Orphant" she told me that you better pronounce it correctly with her teachers.

When my mother was in school she was very bright and she was allowed to "skip" a grade and she was in the same class as her older sister. My grandmother approved of this because my aunt needed "help". In one class they were required to learn a Riley poem "Let Something Good Be Said". It took a great deal of coaching by my mother and grandmother, but my aunt practiced the poem and was eventually able to recite it completely.

In the poem of four stanzas, each verse ends with something similar to: "Let something good be said". As my aunt proceeded with her recitation, at the end of the first verse she said, "Let sumpin good be said." [Hey, we're from Fayette County; pronouncing "ings" is just a nuisance!] The teacher quickly corrected her and said, "Verna, that's SOMETHING--say someTHING." My aunt continued with the next verse and ended with, "If sumpin good be said". The teacher exclaimed, "No, No, Verna, it's SOMETHING--now say someTHING!" The next two stanzas were the same with Verna saying "sumpin" with the teacher correcting her. My poor aunt---the teacher made her say "someTHING"--100 times in front of the class.

My mother had the last word: She asked the teacher why they could say "punkin" instead of "pumpkin" in the Riley poem "When The Frost Is On The Punkin'"!

When correcting in our family, it is quite common to hear someone say, "Say someTHING, Verna!"



--James Whitcomb Riley

When o'er the fair fame of friend or foe
The shadow of disgrace shall fall; instead
Of words of blame, or proof of theirs and so
Let something good be said.

Forget not that no fellow-being yet
May fall so low but love may lift his head:
Even the cheek of shame with tears is wet
If something good be said.

No generous heart may vainly turn aside
In ways of sympathy; no soul so dead
But may awaken strong and glorified
If something good be said.

And so I charge ye, by the thorny crown
And by the cross on which the Savior bled,
And by your own souls' hope of fair renown
Let something good be said.

1 comment:

Mona Lisa said...

We had to learn "If"!