One of the many joys for me as summer draws to an end is digging out my book of poetry by Edgar Allan Poe. His verses seem perfectly suited for the autumn season, and reciting them always helps to escort Summer to the door and usher in the crisp air and changing leaves of Fall. While I am in no hurry to get rid of Summer (I positively detest Winter), I find myself looking forward to Fall more and more each year.
Memorizing poetry is a trait I inherited from my father. When we were kids, Pops would regale us with recitations of 'The Cremation of Sam McGee,' 'The Charge of the Light Brigade,' 'Casey at the Bat,' and others. It was always such a treat when, sitting around a campfire, we could talk him into dusting off one of these classics. To be honest, I never thought much about reciting poetry – although it seems kind of natural, as I have always enjoyed writing it (something else inherited from my dad). I would try, from time to time, to commit a verse to memory, but nothing ever seemed to stick in my head.
Until I read Poe.
For some reason, the poetry of E.A. Poe made an impression on me - most likely because of its dark subject matter and macabre imagery - and I found myself reciting lines in my head without even trying. Thinking I might be on to something, I decided to start small and work my way up to the big poems. I chose Poe's humorous verse: 'Lines On Ale' as my starting point, thinking it would be a clever thing to use when out on the town with my pals.
Fill with mingled cream and amber
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain -
Quaintest thoughts - queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today!
From that little verse (which Poe wrote in a tavern in Lowell, MA in 1848 to pay for a drinking tab), I worked my way up to 'El Dorado,' 'A Dream Within A Dream,' and to even bigger, more complex poems, like 'The Conqueror Worm' and 'Annabel Lee.' At the moment, I am just over 3/4's through Poe's masterpiece: 'The Raven,' and I have been enjoying it immensely.
I would not recommend, however, that anyone use my technique for memorizing poetry; for I piece them together in a kind of hodge-podge of verses – meaning I do not start from the beginning and memorize poems through to the end. A tip for you, though: try getting a poem on your iPod or on cd so that you can listen to it. This has helped me immensely when learning the longer poems like Poe's 'The Bells.' By listening to them in my car as I commute to work, I have found whole verses sticking in my head when I had made no conscious effort to memorize them. Another thing I do is carry a printed out copy of whatever poem I am trying to learn in my pocket. I know it sounds somewhat highbrow and studious (what my wife would call: ‘being a dork’), but having it right there to cross-check certain lines is invaluable.
So you may be wondering, why did I title this blog entry 'Tinkling on the tufted floor?' Well I had high hopes that my four-year-old daughter would one day be asking me to recite poetry around the campfire, but, whenever I get to this particular verse in 'The Raven,' she simply bursts into fits of laughter:
"Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor."
Ha ha ha... Daddy tinkled on the tufted floor!