When I was a little girl, I memorized all kinds of things: Catechism, addition tables, spelling words, times tables, all the State’s capitols, and poetry. I loved poetry especially the kind that tells a story that made my heart happy: Like The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or Trees by Joyce Kilmer:
“I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree..”
That said a lot for climbing a tree, hanging in a crook and just smelling all those green leaves and maybe finding a robin nest with little baby birds, just a cheep-cheeping away stretching their mouths up wide, waiting for a chewed up worm from their mama. It made me want to forget all about memorizing or poetry, or anything except being right there.
Every week, I had a new poem to memorize. Once my class had a choice, The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendall Holmes, or Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I chose the poem about Paul Revere ’cause it sounded like a song and it had an exciting story. Most everyone else chose The Chambered Nautilus because it was shorter. I thought, who wants to spend time memorizing a poem about some giant sea-snail and how hard it is to carry around that shell all day? It was bad enough listening to everyone recite the darned thing.
My friend Georgie said I was showing off, picking such a long poem. I thought it was easier to remember because I could see old Paul waiting there by the window to see how many lanterns went up, all anxious and ready; jumping on his horse like the Swamp Fox from Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and riding off like a mad man in the middle of the night to save his country. Besides, even the words clip-clopped along like a horse on a cobbled street.
My favorite poem was about a guy who spoke up when he should have felt bad about himself and kept quiet. I felt proud of Abou, and maybe if he didn’t live in the far off Olden Days, we could have been friends. I was always getting in trouble for forgetting to keep my trap shut.
When it was time for me to recite, I said in a big voice, “Abou Ben Adhem, by James Henry Leigh Hunt” , that’s the way we had to memorize, so we remembered who wrote the poem too, cause that’s pretty important, Teacher told us. I took a deep breath and recited:
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still, and said “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest. “
Any time I woke up in the middle of the night, I kept an eye out for an angel. I thought I saw one once, kneeling by Deanna, and it scared me. Mom said it wasn’t an angel ’cause if it was, I wouldn’t be scared; she said I must have dreamed it. She was probably right because there was no peaceful light or blooming lilies, and no book of gold.
Even though I memorized that poem years ago, that poem still makes my heart feel happy. I hope I’m like Abou. At the same time, it’s okay with me if I never see an angel again.