The other day, I was flipping through a paperback collection of poems called Immortal Poems of the English Language, a gift from my high school National Honor Society Secret Pal (a year-long Secret Santa type deal) at the end of the 1989 school year, when I came across “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” by Richard Lovelace:
Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Dear) so much,
Lov’d I not Honour more.
I had forgotten I remember that poem.
I memorized it and performed it once or twice in my coffee house open mic days (whose memories I have shared). But I’d forgotten I’d memorized it. I mean, it’s not like the Edna St. Vincent Millay sonnet that I liked to open with at a new venue, and it’s not as noteworthy as memorizing “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” en toto. So I’d forgotten I know it.
But after we wrote the poem and after my youngest boy read it, I showed them how I could recite it from memory (mostly), and pointed out that when you really liked a poem, you could memorize it and recite it and thus make the poem yours. They did not seem excited at the prospect, although they acknowledged that they’ve memorized song lyrics. So they know what it means. Whether they will ever choose to memorize a poem of their own accord remains to be seen. But I’m hopeful.