74 / Poetry

This post was contributed by my brother:

“Poetry is the diamond of thought,” she said.

On first sight, Miss Smith was all grey: grey hair, grey cable-stitched cardigan, grey jumper, grey skirt and grey-blue eyes, but my goodness how those eyes could light up a classroom.
“Let me try to show what I mean by that sentence,” she said. “Think of something you would like to describe, anything that comes into your head, landscapes, pets, feelings if you like, but just give it a go.” She spoke like that.

“Now take what you have written and try to condense it into fewer words, add some rhythm, make lines rhyme.”
 “Rattle clatter goes the train, charging on through sun and rain.
Passing hedges fields and farms” and so on, I wrote. Most of my journey to school was by train, you see.

“Let’s look at the way in which poets have used words, rhythm and rhyme to give us a picture of things they wanted us to think about,” she said. “Paint a picture of the image this poem conjures up for you.” It was an art school after all. I painted a picture of a tiger, with eyes like blow lamps “in the forest of the night.”

We read everything she put before us, studied the lines, engaged in choral speaking, laughed at the rude bits in Chaucer; she laughed with us, and best of all, set us the learning of poetry by heart.
Our mother could recite poetry …”Hail to thee blythe spirit”, “Our England is a garden, full of stately views”, “There once was a way through the woods”. These were some of her opening lines that spring immediately to my mind.

The poems Miss Smith asked us to learn I can still recite now and I thank her for it. I feel that to learn poetry by heart is to take it to heart and know the very essence of it.  She gave me an anthology of poems in the mid-1950s, addressed to me and signed neatly by her within the front cover. I know where it is in the bookcase.

I never managed to produce a diamond, but thanks to her, I certainly know what one looks like.    

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