Clyde, Time Was: Etch something beautiful in your memory

Published 10:09 pm Saturday, January 13, 2018

Time was, we had to memorize. Not just the obligatory “Now I lay me,” but serious, heavy stuff that they thought would be life-altering.

“Trees” by Joyce Kilmer — where do we use that? Or who cares or who knows, Mr. Frost, whose woods these are now? Can you still recite your Shakespeare, line by line? “Is this a dagger I see before me, the handle towards my hand” could be very relevant in the police blotter. “It is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing” could be a city commission.

Thank heaven for rhyme, iambic pentameter and writing on your palm. We got through standing in front of the class, sweating.

“Cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left. … All the world wondered. … Noble six hundred.”

“Water, water, everywhere …”

“I am the master of my fate …”

“Sunset and evening star …”

“Under the spreading chestnut tree …”

You finish it.

Yankees made their children memorize the Gettysburg Address.

Or those romantic poets you thought you could plagiarize and nobody alive would know.

“She walks in beauty like the night” as she walked by your desk.

“How do I love thee, let me count the ways” was not written just for you.

We did pretty well with the pledge to the flag, Lord’s Prayer, 23rd Psalm and the Preamble because we said it in unison, thankfully.

Singing the stars speckled banana was a task when you got to the high part. Recitation was a big part of learning. All the way from the shortest Bible verse — “Jesus wept” — to the beginnings of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” — “Whan that aprill with his shoures soote …” What are tender croppes, anyway? But we did it by rote.

We know about Uncle Ralph and the 14 flavors of ice cream at Dan Dee’s Shop on South Main Street, and we heard he could recite boxcar numbers after the train passed the station. He also never forgot the names on those stockholders certificates. We are forever grateful.

The old brain with its one billion nerve cells and little ol’ dendrites and neurons used any given stimulus as a mnemonic device for ACT and SAT to jump the synapse (minute gap) between two cells, across which impulses pass.

That’s on a good day, not under any influence, or a catatonic state. What we learned by heart stuck with us ’til the cows came home. What we commit to memory most recently may not be the most elegant or memorable legacy of our times. Profanity-infused, hip-hop, jive-talkin’ jibberish with inaudible interjections of senseless slang may not be what we want to keep in our minds or hearts forever.

“I am part of all that I have met.” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

Please, let’s find something to recite for tomorrow. What could that be? Write your own prophetic prose.

Don Cline, the master of all pickers, warns of the danger of “keepitis.” Collectors who go into the business, or try to, are most apt to find that they can’t bear to part with the good things that come their way. You can’t keep everything, but you can try.

Your space is an extension of your mind. It may need a little organization, filing and decluttering. Computers and Facebook could use a good clean-out, with soap, to get rid of ridicule, name-calling and downright degrading comments.

“I am the grass. I cover all.” (Carl Sandburg)

Be proud of what you know. Share it, recite it, learn more — but retain the good stuff. Don’t throw out the good with the dust bunnies in your cluttered, God-given, hard-headed noggin.

“Grow old along with me. The best is yet to be.” (Robert Browning)

Next time you are at a loss for words, see if you can bring to mind a little cerebral phrase, verse or limerick from your feeble brain.

Or just call on Christina Georgina Rossetti:

And dreaming through the twilight

That doth not rise nor set,

Haply I may remember,

and haply may forget.

Clyde is a Salisbury artist.