Things I Remember From School


THE VILLAGE BLACKSMITH

Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

blacksmith

….strange how stuff from school days sticks, resurfaces, acquires new meaning as you grow old(er)……
I find myself humming Schubert’s ‘The Trout’ taught us by Mr. Ronald Center, our inspiring music teacher. As well as ‘ Who is Sylvia?, and  Schumann’s ‘ To France and to freedom two grenadiers/from bondage in Russia were tramping/And bowed with shame and foreboding they came/Where lay Russian soldiers camping...’

And I can still recite  Longfellow’s Blacksmith poem which I still don’t like much but which our very uninspiring English teacher made us learn by heart (as well as  Shylock’s

Signor Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances.
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog,
And spet upon my Jewish gaberdine—
And all for use of that which is mine own. “
which I like more and more – but never got round to finding out what exactly was Shylock’s ‘gaberdine’.
And  she also made us learn Gray’s ‘  The ploughman homeward plods his weary way‘ which I admire now but  found impossibly dull then
and Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
and so on.
I can clearly remember the context in which I learned all these scraps – the teacher (Miss B, was that a wig she was wearing? Mr C with his long black hair which was okay because he was a musician), the classroom (cupboard on the right side, windows on the left) , the pupils ( Jimmy H who laughed at everything, Grace L who was so tall and so beautiful, Ralph M who couldn’t pronounce the letter ‘r’ and whose father owned the local fish and chip shop), the feelings (anxiety, embarrassment, amusement, interest, boredom):
Jimmy now farms his father’s farm;  Grace went to Southampton; Ralph was killed in a car crash; the teachers…….I didn’t go to any reunions; I lost touch.
But over the years I have kept in touch with the poems and songs  –  the village blacksmith with his strong and sinewy hands, badly-done-by Signor Antonio, the two patriotic Grenadiers, the beautiful Sylvia, the constant ploughman  –  they have all stayed with me,  and in addition I have become aware of  and appreciate the hidden ideas and the skills which created and infused these poems and songs we learnt so reluctantly so long ago…….
And oft, when on my couch I lie/ In vacant or in pensive mood/ They flash upon that inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude.
They comfort me.
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2 responses to “Things I Remember From School

  1. I don’t think kids memorize poems in school anymore. But like you I recall some, or all, of the things I learned–and they come to mind to enrich my perceptions of things. It is, indeed, learning “by heart.” Whenever a snow is coming, John Greenleaf Whittier’s “The sun that bleak December day Rose cheerless over hills of gray…” The opening of The Wasteland comes with the opening of April, but before the month is out I’m murmuring chunks of “Paul Revere’s Ride.” In the fourth grade I couldn’t get through Eugene Field’s “Little Boy Blue” without tearing up, and I still can’t… And that Village Smithy returns too, as do the accompanying chestnut trees of my youth. And yes, musical motifs galore, starting with Danse Macabre in the fall. Remembering these things does enable new discoveries as the words or notes float through my mind (and sometimes out my mouth). Thanks for this post!

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