Suffering the blues lately, I was wishing either I was luckier or more talented in my writing or willing to work harder. Typical “feel sorry for yourself” fugue state. As I moped and moaned to myself (my partner won’t tolerate my whining to him), various words came automatically to my mind. Something about beweeping my outcast state and troubling deaf heaven with my cries. Where did that come from, I wondered.
I spared a few minutes to think, and I dredged up out of my memory an old poem that I’d been forced to memorize in school. Shakespeare.* Which led me to remember other things I’d learned by rote in the senior year of high school. Lady MacBeth’s “is this a dagger”. . . Chaucer’s “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote”. . .Burns’ “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!” English teacher Mrs. Binkleman ruled with a firm hand but the soul of a poet.
Unlike some students, who complained and bitched and moaned about the assignments from white-haired, long-skirted Mrs. Binkleman, I kind of enjoyed them, although I never admitted the fact. The language, the history, the door to great minds impressed me. What I didn’t expect was any kind of payback. Memorization was rote, mechanical work, no creativity and little challenge. I never imagined I’d benefit from the tasks. (An aside, she also coached us in thousands of spelling words and other strategies to help us score high on college entrance exams.)
I now seen I’ve gotten lots of rewards from my conscientiousness. The first was in college when I won two tickets to the movies on a radio show for quoting the Burns poem. Less tangible but longer-lasting are the effects when the selections come to me during interesting points in my life. I can quote them to my grandchildren as ready-made homilies. Impress acquaintances. Use them as references in my writing.
The least-anticipated has been the emotional solace they provide. The Shakespearean sonnet that I remembered continues with a comparison to what’s really important—the person the poet loves, who makes him richer than a king, something I needed to recall in the welter of my depression. Others hold equal consolation. “To be” reminds me even the mighty can be confused about the purpose of life. I even have upon occasion memorized additional short pieces I discovered on my own that hold promise of insight. Dickenson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers” and Rosetti’s “Who has seen the wind?” Memorized selections come to me when I need them.
So here’s to Mrs. Binkleman and all the teachers like her. They’ve given their students so much more than the ability to regurgitate phrases, Thank your lucky stars you had them for guidance in life and comfort for the soul. Don’t wait, like I’ve unfortunately done, until fifty years after the fact to thank them, too. Let them know now.
* Sonnet 29 (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174357)
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.