Lifting and Leaning

Miss Baumgartner read Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem “Lifting and Leaning” to my ninth grade English class no doubt to illustrate a point. I brought the poem home to my parents. Mom and Dad liked the poem so much they bought a copy of Best Loved Poems of the American People that became one of my family’s best loved books

I memorized “Lifting and Leaning” and recited all or pieces of it often. I was thrilled that Mom asked me to recite “Lifters and Leaners” as part of a program at church.

When I was in school, learning a poem meant memorizing. The poetry we learned in those days was didactic, intended to teach a moral lesson. “Lifting and Leaning” is an example of such poetry.

In sixth grade we were given a new poem at the beginning of each month to learn (i.e., to memorize) and to recite before the class by the end of the month. Of those poems, I recall titles only of Leigh Hunt’s “Abou Ben Adhem,” and a nonsense poem by Charles Edward Carryl called “The Plaint of the Camel.”

Memorizing poetry and being able to recite it dramatically was important to me. Impressed by anyone who recited poetry, I tried to imitate them. I loved the sound of poetic language and learned many poems on my own trying to fit them into the conversation wherever I could. Memorizing was easier then; and, I can recite many of those poems to this day.

We read Romeo and Juliet in Miss Baumgartner’s class. Required to memorize and to recite 20 lines in front of the class, I memorized the whole of Act II, Scene 3 in which Romeo asks Friar Laurence to perform their marriage. Anyone want to hear me recite Shakespeare?

5 thoughts on “Lifting and Leaning

  1. Annis Cassells

    I recall those days of poetry memorization in school. You’re right; it was easier then. I like to think it’s just that I have a lot more filed away now so it’s hard to make room for new stuff such as memorizing poems.

    Whenever you recite poetry in our writing class, I am enthralled and appreciative. xoA

  2. Anke Hodenpijl

    I was never any good at memorizing anything. I am always impressed by people who can. I imagine you as a young boy, dramatic and expressive, probably well-dressed or in costume. It is so you.

  3. Joan Raymond

    I remember having to learn a poem in elementary school. I don’t recall what I picked, but I do remember one brave classmate memorized “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Thayer. The class sat mesmerized and applauded at the end of the book-length poem.

    Next time I see you, I’d love to hear some Shakespeare. Do you take requests?


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