Words and Music

The Rilke post from earlier got me thinking about the first poem I ever memorized.

Obviously, nursery rhymes were first, and then songs like Jesus Loves Me. Then, when I started school, My Country Tis of Thee, America the Beautiful, The Star-Spangled Banner, Simple Gifts.

In fourth grade we had to memorize and recite poems, so of course we all asked if we could do Top 40. Someone beat me to We Didn’t Start the Fire (I memorized it anyway…we all did), so I did Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins. The song really affected me. Years later, I’d find myself working street-level with the homeless populations of the Lehigh Valley. What had seemed like a very 80s problem has gotten so much worse.

The first sort of classic poem I ever memorized was To Althea From Prison by Lovelace, the cavalier. It’s very famous, especially for this line:

Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
Nor Iron bars a Cage;

but the ones that really got me were

When (like committed linnets) I
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty,
And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
He is, how Great should be,
Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood,
Know no such Liberty.

and especially:

When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fettered to her eye,
The Gods that wanton in the Air,
Know no such Liberty.

I was 15, so yeah. Killed me. Still does.

It strikes me now that “Slide Away” by Oasis, which I also discovered around that time, is a cavalier poem from the Council Estates. I love it so much.

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