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:
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.
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.
3 hours ago