Sharon Randall: A poem for the ages

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 1, 2022

Where do random thoughts come from? What makes them pop into mind for no apparent reason? And why can I recite a poem I learned long ago, but cannot for the life of me recall where I left my phone?

It can take hours to find it. The phone, not the poem. But it took only minutes to turn up this morning under my pillow where I left it when I got out of bed.

Either that, or my husband hid it there. I’m not saying he did that. I’m just saying he might, if he thought of it. He likes to joke even if I don’t think it’s funny.

I could have found the phone sooner if I’d done like my mama taught me, and made that bed the minute I crawled out of it.

Do you do that? When I wake up — if I want to function like a civilized human who actually gives a rip about making a bed or finding a cell phone — I need coffee. Two cups. With cream.

With one cup I can say “Good morning” to my husband and ask, “Did you hide my phone?”

But it takes two cups for me to put on my shoes and go see if I left it (or he hid it) in the car.

I was on my second cup this morning when I missed my phone. My husband was in the garage. I didn’t ask him about it. I just started looking. And that’s when I began to hear in my head a poem I recited when I was 10 years old to win first place in the school’s recitation contest.

It was a small a victory, not many contestants. But it was something, and I was proud.

In “The Children’s Hour,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describes the youngest (ages 10, 7 and 5) of his six children:

From my study I see in the lamplight, / Descending the broad hall stair, /Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra, / And Edith with golden hair.

The gist of the poem is this: He hears his girls sneaking up. They rush in like an army of squirrels scaling a castle, overcoming him with kisses and taking him captive in their arms. Just when it seems he’s lost the battle, Longfellow says this:

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti, / Because you have scaled the wall, / Such an old mustache as I am / Is not a match for you all!

“I have you fast in my fortress, / And will not let you depart, / But put you down into the dungeon / In the round-tower of my heart. / And there will I keep you forever, / Yes, forever and a day, / Till the walls shall crumble to ruin, /And moulder in dust away!

I loved how the words of that poem would roll off my tongue like snowmelt on a tin roof. It made me think of my granddad, a preacher, who knew by heart, and could recite with passion, from Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and other poetic passages of the King James.

The night I won that contest, Granddad was ill and couldn’t be there to hear me. But I wish you could’ve seen his face the next day when I recited, just for him, “The Children’s Hour.”

Years later, when he left this world to go preach to the angels, he took the love of all our family to keep us forever and a day in the round-tower of his heart.

What put that poem in my head today? I was sipping coffee, trying to wake up, and thought of a phone call I got last night from my grandson.

Randy is 12, an artist, a writer, a musician, a skateboarder, a lifeguard and an absolute joy. He had surgery a while back for a broken arm, but thankfully, it healed and he’s good to go. He’d been worried it might keep him from playing basketball. But he called last night happy to tell me he made the team. And I wish you could’ve seen my face.

When a child is born, parents and grandparents are often surprised to discover they will rejoice in that child’s happiness far more than in their own.

That poem is a bit different now when it plays in my head. Instead of Alice, Allegra and Edith, I hear all my children’s and grandchildren’s names. I picture Longfellow laughing with my granddad. And I wish you could see their faces.

Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or