Google has replaced the need to remember much of anything. “Who starred in that movie?” “Does ‘edited’ have one T or two?” “What’s the capital of Wisconsin?”
Can’t remember? Google it.
But Caroline Kennedy, whose latest book is “Poems to Learn by Heart,” suggests memorizing poetry helps us understand someone else’s emotions, put words to universal feelings and connects people.
“You share with someone and you have this bond that I think is very intense,” she told interviewer Neal Conan. “You know you have this poem — you gave them something that means something to you and those are the best kinds of gifts to give or to receive.”
I imagine if I ever was a hostage or POW, imprisoned without so much as a dial-up internet connection and left to the games of my mind, I’d be grateful for the poems and Bible verses I’d memorized throughout my life (why I imagine I’d ever be a POW is beyond me — this is how my strange mind operates).
As I listened to her interview on NPR this week, I thought of my maternal grandfather, who loved poetry and often recited lines and verses as I spent time with him as a child. He especially loved bawdy bits (to which my little brother attached himself fully), but the poem I remember my grandfather encouraged me to memorize (he quizzed me on my recall more than once) had a lesson in its rhyming words:
The Guy in the Glass
by Dave Wimbrow
When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.
For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Whose judgment upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.
He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.
You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.