The first poem I loved enough to memorize came from The Childcraft Encyclopedia. The books had arrived at our house as if by magic, along with the grown-ups’ World Book. Each volume wore a different colored band on its spine and all of them were tucked snugly into their own special bookcase. The snug case, the fancy bindings, the slick paper, the colored pictures, the gold lettering. OMG. They sat in the living room, calling, calling. They mesmerized, hypnotized. I couldn’t get enough, especially of the volume ‘Poems and Rhymes.’ I remember it had the Carl Sandburg fog and little cat feet poem, which was paired with a drawing of a little boat dock in the fog. I knew even then that Sandburg’s was a fine, real poem. But I just couldn’t help it. Here’s the one I loved:
I had a little tea party
This afternoon at three.
‘Twas very small-
Three guests in all-
Just I, myself and me.
Myself ate up the sandwiches,
While I drank up the tea;
‘Twas also I
Who ate the pie
And passed the cake to me.
I couldn’t get over how great this poem was: the rollicking music, the rhyme of “me” and “tea,” “I” and “pie,” and the change-up from three beats to two in the lines ending “small” and “all.” But even more than the music, I loved how one child could become three of the most delightful friends. How delicious to enjoy one’s own company so, and eat all the treats and drink all the tea and still feel as though one had not been a hog, because a tea party is ever-so civilized. Like a polite guest, you’d shared.
Me: “Oh, hello. May I offer you a sandwich?
Myself: “Oh yes, that would be lovely. Thank you.”
Me Again: “Oh, you’re quite welcome. Cake?”
I: “Oh, thank you. I do believe I will.”
I loved this poem so much, I had to have it. So I got to work. I read a line out loud, closed my eyes and repeated it, read the next line and repeated it, looked at the ceiling and repeated them both together, moved on to the third. And then the fourth. If I forgot and had to peek, I made myself start all over. Line by line, rhyme by rhyme, I learned that poem by heart. What a lovely phrase, “by heart.” And that’s exactly what it is, a heart poem. A by-my-heart poem. Ready whenever the occasion calls. It may not be a great poem, but I’ll never lose it.
This week in Slow Book land, browse a shelf. Find a poem that sings to you. Learn it by heart. Then gather together your closest friends, recite your poem, and discover the magic of the tea party poem: you give something away, and you still have it. And when the recitation is over, be sure to pass some cake and eat some pie and drink up all the tea.