A Curmudgeon I Like

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The other day I was discussing memorizing things with a friend who noted that I have an exceptionally good memory. This is a gift that has served me well throughout my life: it helped me become "scripture chase champion" (meaning that I could identify a passage of scripture based on one or two key words, then recite it verbatim, more swiftly and more accurately than anyone--what an accomplishment!) when I was in high school; it helped me memorize the discussions in Chinese as a missionary; it helped me get through a bachelor's degree with really great grades and a minimum of studying.

Some things are especially easy to memorize--certain poems or songs, for instances. One of the easiest poems to memorize is This Be the Verse, a bitterly funny poem in iambic tetrameter with simple diction and a straightforward ABAB rhyme scheme. TBtV is one of my favorite poems ever, and my very favorite poem by Philip Larkin, a curmudgeonly British poet whose attention to the intracacies of rhyme and form contrast nicely with a very earthy vocabulary and a sensibility keenly aware of loss. (As Robert Hass writes in Meditation at Lagunitas, "All the new thinking is about loss./ In this it resembles all the old thinking.")

Consider, for intance, Larkin's poem "Sad Steps." It begins with the line, "Groping back to bed after a piss," an occasion that provides the speaker with a view of a brilliant moon. The poem becomes a meditation on the fact that the moon's "wide stare"

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can't come again
But is for other undiminished somewhere.

Larkin doesn't seem like a particularly nice person but he wrote wonderful poetry, even if he is known as the poet of dirty words. If you aren't familiar with his work, check it out.

2 Comments

I have always admired your memory and have more than once told you things I knew I would inevitably forget because I knew you would remember.

Memory is weird. When I was acting, I was able to memorize huge sections of material with very little effort. It always amazed me when other actors struggled to learn their lines. But I forget all kinds of important things all the time. Thanks for reminding me when I need it. You're the best.

Sleeplessness has robbed me of my short term memory recently. My mind is teflon: ideas go in but they do not stick. However, I understand that the moon is now nearer to the Earth than at any time in the last 3 decades, which made last night's full moon especially spectacular. I hope it's not overcast there.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on December 15, 2005 9:28 AM.

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