Quote of the Day: The First Eighteen Lines

 

I know many of you know them by heart. I’ve seen some of you say so, on Ricochet, over the past nine years. At some point in your lives, you probably had them thrust at you; you might have struggled through them; maybe you cheated with the Cliffs Notes; perhaps you said you couldn’t possibly figure them out; you didn’t believe you could just “read them out loud” and understand them; and when you did, you couldn’t quite believe that your mouth, and your larynx had made such weird sounds; perhaps you memorized them; and very likely you either hated, or you loved, your taskmaster and teacher.

I loved my teacher of forty years ago. And a couple of years after the class in which all of the above thoughts ran through my mind at one point or another, we married each other. I don’t know how far we’ll get into the next forty together, but we’ve had a pretty good run. And now, it’s April again, the Ram has run his “half-course,” the world is greening, and, as happens every year at this time, I’m reminded.

This is for Frank. And Geoffrey. With whom hyt alle bigan. With love.

Loose translation, by She: When April, with its sweet showers has watered and wet down March’s drought, all the way to the roots, and every leaf is bathed in the water of life, the power of which begets the flowers: When the sweet breath of the West Wind has breathed life into the tender leaves in every wood and meadow, and the young Sun has run half his course in the Sign of the Ram. And little birds sing tunefully and sleep at night with their eyes open, so full are their hearts with Nature and life. Then, folks long to take pilgrimages, some seeking journeys to foreign shrines in far-away and sundry lands; but especially from every part of England, pilgrims find their way to Canterbury, where they seek the shrine of the holy, blessed martyr who helped them when they were sick.

Is there a piece of poetry or prose you love so much that you’ve memorized it for life? Please share.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Listen, my children, and you shall hear
    Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
    On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
    Hardly a man is now alive
    Who remembers that famous day and year.

    He said to his friend, “If the British march
    By land or sea from the town to-night,
    Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
    Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,
    — One if by land, and two if by sea;
    And I on the opposite shore will be,
    Ready to ride and spread the alarm
    Through every Middlesex village and farm,
    For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    You know what is better than the formatting Ricochet inflicts performs on attempts to format poetry?

    Everything.

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I love the way that poem ends.

    So through the night rode Paul Revere;
    And so through the night went his cry of alarm
    To every Middlesex village and farm,-- 
    A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
    A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
    And a word that shall echo forevermore!
    For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
    Through all our history, to the last,
    In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
    The people will waken and listen to hear
    The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
    And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
    • #3
  4. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Percival (View Comment):

    I love the way that poem ends.

    So through the night rode Paul Revere;
    And so through the night went his cry of alarm
    To every Middlesex village and farm,-- A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
    A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
    And a word that shall echo forevermore!
    For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
    Through all our history, to the last,
    In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
    The people will waken and listen to hear
    The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
    And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

    Bravo!

    • #4
  5. danok1 Member
    danok1
    @danok1

    Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,
    O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
    Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
    Wi’ bickerin brattle!
    I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
    Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

    I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
    Has broken Nature’s social union,
    An’ justifies that ill opinion,
    Which makes thee startle,
    At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
    An’ fellow-mortal!

    I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
    What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
    A daimen-icker in a thrave
    ’S a sma’ request:
    I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
    An’ never miss ’t!

    Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
    It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
    An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
    O’ foggage green!
    An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
    Baith snell an’ keen!

    Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
    An’ weary Winter comin fast,
    An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
    Thou thought to dwell,
    Till crash! the cruel coulter past
    Out thro’ thy cell.

    That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble
    Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
    Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
    But house or hald,
    To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
    An’ cranreuch cauld!

    But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,
    In proving foresight may be vain:
    The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
    Gang aft agley,
    An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
    For promis’d joy!

    Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
    The present only toucheth thee:
    But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
    On prospects drear!
    An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
    I guess an’ fear!

    To A Mouse,On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough

    • #5
  6. Vectorman Member
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    How about the Bard:

    What a piece of work is man, How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, In form and moving how express and admirable, In action how like an Angel, In apprehension how like a god, The beauty of the world, The paragon of animals.

    I remember this because of college “Rhetoric 101.” The teacher assigned us to do something on this passage, so I wrote some 4 part music for it, using very basic music theory. I remember most of the words, and little bits of the tune.


    The Quote of the Day series is the easiest way to start a fun conversation on Ricochet. We have many open dates on the April Schedule. We even include tips for finding great quotes, so choose your favorite quote and sign up today!

    • #6
  7. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    What a coincidence. When I got in the car this morning, noticing the spring weather, I spontaneously started reciting this exact passage, which Mrs. Fern had us memorize in English class several decades ago. I wasn’t even sure I remembered it, but as I finished each line the next one came to me.

    Even better: as I sat there reciting Middle English in the car, it occurred to me that I had no idea whether the pronunciation Mrs. Fern had taught us was anywhere close to correct. I thought to myself: “I should go online and see if I can find a recording of someone else reading it, so I can see if my version is anything close to correct.”

    But by the time I got to my desk, I had forgotten about it. And now I come to Ricochet…

    • #7
  8. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    What a coincidence. When I got in the car this morning, noticing the spring weather, I spontaneously started reciting this exact passage, which Mrs. Fern had us memorize in English class several decades ago. I wasn’t even sure I remembered it, but as I finished each line the next one came to me.

    Even better: as I sat there reciting Middle English in the car, it occurred to me that I had no idea whether the pronunciation Mrs. Fern had taught us was anywhere close to correct. I thought to myself: “I should go online and see if I can find a recording of someone else reading it, so I can see if my version is anything close to correct.”

    But by the time I got to my desk, I had forgotten about it. And now I come to Ricochet…

    Great story!  Don’t forget to let me know where to send your check . . . 

    • #8
  9. OldDanRhody Member
    OldDanRhody
    @OldDanRhody

    • #9
  10. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    The world has had great heroes
    As history books have showed,
    But never a name to go down in fame
    Compared with that of Toad!

    The clever men at Oxford
    Know all there is to be knowed,
    But they none of them know half so much
    As intelligent Mr. Toad!

    The animals sat in the Ark and cried,
    Their tears in torrents flowed.
    Who was it said, “There’s land ahead”?
    Encouraging Mr. Toad.

    The Army all saluted
    As they marched on down the road.
    Was it the King? Or Kitchener?
    No! It was Mr. Toad.

    The Queen and her ladies-in-waiting
    Sat at the window and sewed.
    The Queen asked, “Who’s that handsome man?”
    They answered, “Mr. Toad.”

    • #10
  11. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Whatta great poem, about such a great subject…

    • #11
  12. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Whatta great poem, about such a great subject…

    Boop boop!

     

    • #12
  13. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    OldDanRhody (View Comment):

    I love that one, too!

    • #13
  14. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Actually, I have other poems, including my favorite, “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

    Glory be to God for dappled things–
    For sky of coupled-color as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles that stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pierced–fold, fallow, and plough;
    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
    Praise him.

    • #14
  15. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Aye tear her tattered ensign down

    Long has it waved on high,

    And many an eye has danced to see

    That banner in the sky.

    Beneath it rung the battle shout,

    And burst the cannon’s roar;–

    The meteor of the ocean air

    Shall sweep the clouds no more.

    Her deck once red with heroes’ blood

    Where knelt the vanquished foe

    When winds were hurrying o’er the flood

    And waves were white below,

    No more shall feel the victor’s tread

    Or know the conquered knee–

    The harpies of the shore shall pluck

    The eagle of the sea!

    Oh, better that her shattered hulk

    Should sink beneath the wave;

    Her thunders shook the mighty deep,

    And there should be her grave;

    Nail to the mast her holy flag,

    Set every threadbare sail,

    And give her to the god of storms,

    The lightening and the gales.

    —Old Ironsides, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr.

    I had to look up the poem. I can no longer recite it from memory. But we memorized it in the fourth grade, and I remembered it for a very long time afterward.

    Interesting story about this poem, as told on the same Wikipedia page:

    “Old Ironsides” was the nickname given to the 18th-century frigate, USS Constitution during the War of 1812 after its naval battle with HMS GuerriereConstitution was one of the original six frigates of the United States Navy, commissioned by the Naval Act of 1794. Constitution was the third of four ships with 44 guns and was granted its name by President George Washington. The ship saw action during the Quasi-War, the First Barbary War, the Battle of Tripoli Harbor, and the Battle of Derne before earning her famous nickname during the War of 1812.

    Holmes had recently abandoned his studies of law and began writing poetry for fun. In September 1830, he read an article in the Boston Daily Advertiser about the Navy’s plans to dismantle the historic USS Constitution. Startled by this, he was moved to write “Old Ironsides” to express his opposition of the scrapping. The poem was published in the Advertiser the next day and was soon reprinted by papers in New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

    The poem brought Holmes immediate national attention, and the poem would remain among his best-known. Additionally, the poem generated enough public sentiment that the historic ship was preserved, though plans to do so may have already been in motion. Today, Constitution is well known by its nickname “Old Ironsides” and is the oldest commissioned ship in the world still afloat.

    The Navy sends her out every Fourth of July. She was completely refurbished in 2017.

    She is a grand old beautiful ship. (Photo credit: USS Constitution helps to celebrate Independence Day, July 4, 2012. Photo by Greg M. Cooper.)

    • #15
  16. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Still round the corner, there may wait,
    some new road or secret gate,
    and though oft I’ve passed them by,
    the day will come at last when I,
    shall take the hidden paths that run,
    west of the moon, east of the sun.
    – JRR Tolkien, Frodo’s Song.

    • #16
  17. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    I likewise had to memorize and recite Chaucer in 11th grade.  And to this day, alumni from my school will regularly challenge each others’ memories.

    • #17
  18. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    I likewise had to memorize and recite Chaucer in 11th grade. And to this day, alumni from my school will regularly challenge each others’ memories.

    It is rather amazing how much of it “sticks.”

    • #18
  19. Michael S. Malone Contributor
    Michael S. Malone
    @MichaelSMalone

    I learned those first eighteen lines of Chaucer in Middle English in high school.  Recited it for years when jogging.

    Here’s the other one:

    Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
    Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, 
    And the green freedom of a cockatoo
    Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
    The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. 
    She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
    Encroachment of that old catastrophe, 
    As a calm darkens among water-lights. 
    The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
    Seem things in some procession of the dead,
    Winding across wide water, without sound.
    The day is like wide water, without sound,
    Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
    Over the seas, to silent Palestine, 
    Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.
    
    • #19
  20. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    My little daughter is working on “The Ballad of William Sycamore” by Stephen Vincent Benet. We love him. His Pocahontas, his George Washington, his Ben Franklin, his Columbus (“Of all the queer things that discoverers do, his was the queerest I swear! / He discovered our country in one-four-nine-two/by thinking it couldn’t be there!”). So wonderful.

    I can never read the whole poem out loud. I lose it when the red pony rolls on him…

     

    • #20
  21. Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke
    @HankRhody

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I had to look up the poem. I can no longer recite it from memory. But we memorized it in the fourth grade, and I remembered it for a very long time afterward.

    Usually my problem is the confounders who sneak into my house and change the text in my books so that it doesn’t match my memory anymore.

    These days I mostly remember bits and snippets. I don’t go to the trouble of memorizing long passages. It isn’t an improvement.

    • #21
  22. Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke
    @HankRhody

    She: Is there a piece of poetry or prose you love so much that you’ve memorized it for life? Please share.

    I’ve only occasionally memorized something that I’ve come to regret.

    • #22
  23. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke (View Comment):
    Usually my problem is the confounders who sneak into my house and change the text in my books so that it doesn’t match my memory anymore.

    Oh, holy cow.  I can relate to that.

    • #23
  24. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Michael S. Malone (View Comment):

    I learned those first eighteen lines of Chaucer in Middle English in high school. Recited it for years when jogging.

    Here’s the other one:

    Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
    Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, And the green freedom of a cockatoo
    Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
    The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
    Encroachment of that old catastrophe, As a calm darkens among water-lights. The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
    Seem things in some procession of the dead,
    Winding across wide water, without sound.
    The day is like wide water, without sound,
    Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
    Over the seas, to silent Palestine, Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.
    

    Mr. She has long been an ardent fan of Wallace Stevens.

    • #24
  25. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    She (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke (View Comment):
    Usually my problem is the confounders who sneak into my house and change the text in my books so that it doesn’t match my memory anymore.

    Oh, holy cow. I can relate to that.

    The most annoying to me is when my offspring arrogantly announce that I’ve gotten it wrong…and they’re right…

    • #25
  26. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke (View Comment):

    She: Is there a piece of poetry or prose you love so much that you’ve memorized it for life? Please share.

    I’ve only occasionally memorized something that I’ve come to regret.

    I spent four years playing rugby in college, one as Chief of Protocol of the club, tasked with leading the singing and upholding the club’s honor. 

    I’ve spent decades trying to forget those verses I used to sing…

    • #26
  27. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Meddling Cowpoke (View Comment):

    She: Is there a piece of poetry or prose you love so much that you’ve memorized it for life? Please share.

    I’ve only occasionally memorized something that I’ve come to regret.

    I spent four years playing rugby in college, one as Chief of Protocol of the club, tasked with leading the singing and upholding the club’s honor.

    I’ve spent decades trying to forget those verses I used to sing…

    This made me laugh.  I wish I could forget a few of my old school songs, too.  Starting with the “official” song of my old boarding school, which was in a minor key, with words starting on the off beat, had a wandering melody with no clear tempo or meter, and had the tongue-twisting opening lines:

    Wrought by brave hands long dead, the past has laid
    So great a heritage before our feet–

    It sort of got worse from there, until the end of the first verse:

    Lord God, through all the changes time may bring
    Guard thou the school ‘neath thine o’ersha-a-a-do-wing.

    The last note was a killer, too.  Not what you’d expect.

    • #27
  28. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Oh, better that her shattered hulk

    Should sink beneath the wave;

    Her thunders shook the mighty deep,

    And there should be her grave;

    Nail to the mast her holy flag,

    Set every threadbare sail,

    And give her to the god of storms,

    The lightening and the gales.

    —Old Ironsides, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr.

    Isaac Asimov had a essay entitled “Sacred Poets” based on a quote from Horace: “Many brave men lived before Agamemnon; but all are overwhelmed in eternal night, unwept, unknown, because they lack a sacred poet.” “Old Ironsides” was one of his examples, and in his telling, he says that the poem was reprinted in newspapers all over the country and suddenly it was Congress that was facing “the god of storms.”

    • #28
  29. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    You may talk o’ gin and beer

    When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere.

    And you’re sent to penny fights and Aldershot it.

    But when it comes to slaughter,

    You’ll do your work on water,

    And you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of him that’s got it.

    Now in Injia’s sunny clime

    Where I used to spend my time

    A-servin’ of Her Majesty the queen,

    Of all that black-faced crew

    The finest man I knew

    Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

    That’s all I can remember other than piecemeal except for the last lines:

    Though I’ve belted you and flayed you

    By the living God that made you

    You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

    I was first exposed to Gunga Din in the Mad Magazine parody of The Rat Patrol, a TV show set in North Africa during WWII.

    • #29
  30. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Percival (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Oh, better that her shattered hulk

    Should sink beneath the wave;

    Her thunders shook the mighty deep,

    And there should be her grave;

    Nail to the mast her holy flag,

    Set every threadbare sail,

    And give her to the god of storms,

    The lightening and the gales.

    —Old Ironsides, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr.

    Isaac Asimov had a essay entitled “Sacred Poets” based on a quote from Horace: “Many brave men lived before Agamemnon; but all are overwhelmed in eternal night, unwept, unknown, because they lack a sacred poet.” “Old Ironsides” was one of his examples, and in his telling, he says that the poem was reprinted in newspapers all over the country and suddenly it was Congress that was facing “the god of storms.”

    Love this! :-) Thank you!

    • #30

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