from the inquiring mind of
children's book author and educator
Barbara Jean Hicks,
It's still National Poetry Month and I'm still thinking about poetry!
I grew up in a family that loved music and poetry. My dad went to school in an era when poetry was memorized, and I remember him quoting poems when I was a child that he had learned as a child. One favorite memory from my childhood is the image of my father knocking on my door to wake me in the morning, poking his head in the doorway and quoting Omar Khayyam:
AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight…
As he approached the end of his life and lost many of his memories to Alzheimer’s, my dad didn’t forget the poems of his childhood. I could begin Robert Frost's “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening”:
Whose woods these are, I think I know…
and he would immediately respond with:
His house is in the village, though.
And he could quote the King James Version of the 23rd Psalm from beginning to end flawlessly. What’s more, quoting poetry seemed to give my father pleasure at a time in his life when most pleasures were forgotten.
Now my mom is suffering memory loss, and although she didn’t attend a school that emphasized memorization the way my father’s did, I find that one of the things she enjoys most is having stories and poetry read aloud to her. The poems she most responds to are the silly ones she and my father read to us when we were very small, like Lewis Carroll’s “The Owl and the Pussy Cat,” or this from Gelett Burgess:
I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!
She likes the vivid images found in more serious poetry, too, like these in “The Eagle” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
Poetry was for my father and is for my mother a bridge to the past. It is a bridge to my past as well; it connects me to my childhood and to my parents as they were. As someone who writes for the pleasure of sound as well as sense, poetry is my legacy—one worth far more to me than any physical legacy could ever be.
Thank you, Papá and Mama. I love you.