Lord Byron composing the perfect selfie

Badly Remembered Poetry

In praise of the half-remembered gems of poetry

I’d like to think of myself as someone who remembers complete poems. Someone who can recite them at significant moments in life, preferably looking into the middle distance with a slight breeze in my face emphasizing my windswept and interesting look. Unfortunately, I am not that someone.

What I am is someone who remembers snippets and half lines. Triggered by circumstance, I will raise a finger in preparation for the full verse but it doesn’t come, instead the half line.

When about to leave I might begin . . .

I will arise and go now to the Isle of Innisfree,
And four and twenty bean pods I will . . . something, something, something . . .

While in a forest I might take in the trees with a sweeping gesture and intone . . .

Whose woods these are I think I know, his house is in the village lo.
My little horse must think it’s strange to stop and . . . something, something, something . . .

On hearing about the death of a celebrity who had it all, a mega-rich titan of industry, or a political powerhouse, I might recite, nodding my head knowingly . . .

Scepter and Crown
Must tumble down,
and in the dust are equal made
With the crooked scythe and spade.

If I hear someone talking about getting older and lamenting the things that were once easier, like partying hard and drinking all night, the old chestnut Desiderata will come to mind. This is the poem most commonly found in people’s bathrooms. It starts . . .

Go placidly amid the noise and haste and . . . something, something, something….

The bit about aging that springs to mind is . . .

. . . surrender gracefully the things of youth . . .

It’s good to nod the head knowingly when reciting that one too.

When I see trees getting bashed about in a storm . . .

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May . . .

That’s from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 which begins . . .

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Which, you would think, I would associate with wooing but no, when it comes to wooing I always think of Ogden Nash’s poem, Reflections On Ice Breaking

Is dandy
But liquor
Is quicker

When summoning teenagers of all ages I nearly always yell . . .

Come on younglings foot it fleetly . . .

On hearing someone trying to keep-it-together when their heart is aching. . .

Let it crack,
let the wind blow through it,
and let a little bird make a nest in it
and let it sing.

I use these delicious little morsels of poetry whenever I get a chance, not because I want to impress people with my knowledge of poetry, let me take a second to laugh at that notion but for the sheer joy of acknowledging the poetry of life.

I suspect I’m not alone. I think most people remember poetry this way. Tell me I’m wrong.

I’d love to hear the half lines that have stuck in your head. Add them in the comments below . . .

To read the un-slaughtered versions of my misremembered half lines see below . . .

“I wandered lonely as a cloud . . .” from the poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth

“I will arise and go now. . .” from the poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats.

“Whose woods these are . . .” from the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

“Scepter and Crown . . “ from the poem Death the Leveller by James Shirley

“Go placidly amid the noise . . . . and  . . . surrender gracefully the things of youth . . .” from the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.

“Rough winds do shake the darling buds . . . and . . . Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? from Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare.

“Candy is dandy . . .” from the poem  Reflections On Ice Breaking by Ogden Nash

“Come on younglings foot it fleetly . . .” from the poem Indoor Games near Newbury by John Betjeman.

“Let it crack, let the wind blow through it . . .” from the poem When the Heart by Michael Leunig.  You can listen to my podcast with Michael here.



{ Photo by Count Oliveti who snapped Lord Byron composing the perfect selfie. }


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