Friday, June 01, 2012

Poetry Friday: Remembering and Forgetting

This time of year, I'm thinking a lot about remembering and perhaps even more about forgetting. My students are taking tests, so I'm finding out what they did and didn't learn. Even in the act of administering the tests, I'm humbled about my ability to impart anything to my kids. I give instructions, hand out the test, then answer all the questions that my instructions already answered.

There are many things I want my students to remember about this year, and there are many I want them to forget. I want them to remember what I taught them about books and poems and about how they can move and excite and teach us. I want them to remember how wonderful it is to work on a piece of writing until it shines and expresses exactly what you meant to say. But I want them to forget the days I was sarcastic and impatient. I want them to forget anything I said that was discouraging or made them feel less than the creatures of infinite value which they are. But I can't choose what they will remember and what they won't.

Yesterday on Your Daily Poem, there was this poem:


Memory

Thomas Bailey Aldrich

My mind lets go a thousand things,
Like dates of wars and deaths of kings,
And yet recalls the very hour—
’Twas noon by yonder village tower,
And on the last blue noon in May—
The wind came briskly up this way,
Crisping the brook beside the road;
Then, pausing here, set down its load
Of pine-scents, and shook listlessly
Two petals from that wild-rose tree.


This made me think of Billy Collins' poem on the same subject.



Forgetfulness

Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.


The capital of Paraguay is one of the things Billy Collins' persona has forgotten, and that's one thing I won't ever forget, because I've been there. My brother got married there, and it's part of my memory in a way those random facts he mentions are not. I hope the same for my students, that at least some of what they have experienced this year will be part of their memory even when the random facts have slipped away.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

12 comments:

Linda at teacherdance said...

Ruth, I adore these poems & your words about your students, wondering what they will remember. The work that you've done will appear in different ways, I imagine. One child will remember the readalouds, one will have loved the math, and so on. The individuals have such different moments from their lives that connect. Thank you for sharing.

Tara said...

I love the poems...but your last line, I loved above all. Especially as I wind down my year as well.

Mary Lee said...

Ah, yes...the remembering and the forgetting.

I had some graduating senior from a very memorable 4-5 looping class come back and visit this week, and it was so great to hear them laugh and reminisce. They are so tall and confident and ready for the world....

Carol said...

Ruth,
I love these two poems, but even more, I love your words, "There are many things I want my students to remember about this year, and there are many I want them to forget. I want them to remember what I taught them about books and poems and about how they can move and excite and teach us. I want them to remember how wonderful it is to work on a piece of writing until it shines and expresses exactly what you meant to say. But I want them to forget the days I was sarcastic and impatient. I want them to forget anything I said that was discouraging or made them feel less than the creatures of infinite value which they are. But I can't choose what they will remember and what they won't."

I have been thinking about that a lot with my fourth graders, and also with my son, as he prepares to head off to junior college to play football. How much I hope he will remember the good times…

Robyn Hood Black said...

Embarrassing but must confess: I saw the title of your post in the PF line-up yesterday and thought, "Intriguing! I must get over there right away!" You can figure out the rest: I forgot.... So glad to circle back today and find and these two poems. And I believe, above (or below) whatever else they remember, your students will know they were valued by you.

Betsy said...

These poems were so poignant, the audio was wonderful. It would be quite something if we could decide what someone remembers or forgets about us. In the same way, I hope I can try to remember all the good each of my students gave me this year and let go of the tears and tantrums that often popped up day after day.

Author Amok said...

This is one of my favorite Billy Collins poems. So lovely. I am also watching my parents -- in their 70s -- "forget" things that aren't important to them.

Irene Latham said...

I find myself as a parent often striving to create experiences for my children that they will remember... we are defined so much by what we choose to remember. I've enjoyed a book recently THE SENSE OF AN ENDING (won the Booker) -- it delves into this as well. Thanks so much for the poems!

Liz Steinglass said...

Thanks for sharing these poems and your thoughts as the school year ends. I remember the teachers who cared to know me. Maybe I don't remember exactly what they said but I feel certain their principles are in me somewhere and I certainly remember the feeling of being known and cared about.

Irene said...

Memory is a curious thing, isn't it? It makes me think of Ignatius of Loyola's prayer, "Take Lord, and receive my liberty, my memory, my understanding, all I have and possess..." I loved the poems you shared, but resonated even more with the desire for students to remember some things and forget others. Thanks for writing this.

Joy Palakkal said...

Nice Blogging!!! Keep It up!!
Have a Great Time!!

jama said...

What a lovely post, and perfect poems to commemorate the end of another school year.

When I think back to my teachers, most of the things I remember are not so much the facts themselves, but ways to learn, how to find out what you want to know, and those skills for which I was encouraged and supported. I learned most from the strictest teachers, it seems, even though they weren't necessarily the "nicest" ones. And I do still think about those teachers who made me laugh or were extra kind :).