Thursday, May 18, 2006

Poetry Thursday: The School Years

Last week I made two posts, one to share a poem and one to make some observations on my relationship with poetry. This week I'm combining the two.
Having learned to read, I got to school at the age of five (starting age in New Zealand) and didn't learn very much, as far as I can remember, for the next eight years. Actually, I probably learned a lot but it was a small school, I could read fluently when I got there, and I don't ever remember a real sense of "wow" to my learning.
My own children have had so much exposure to writing and writers. They get visits from real writers in schools these days (including the wonderful Margaret Mahy who visits schools in a penguin costume, or a rainbow coloured clown wig). They get to write their own stories, and poems which don't have to rhyme, and can be about things that are very familiar to them.
As far as I can remember, if we did much writing in school, it was earnest little essays such as "What I Did in the Holidays". Our reading in school (I read hundreds of library books as well) was mostly from the pages of the School Journal which was put out by the Department of Education and contained a mix of stories, non-fiction, short plays for children to perform and I think, poems, though I remember very few. I do remember one name of a New Zealand poet - Eileen Duggan - but for the most part writers were "somewhere else" and wrote about things that were "somewhere else". So when I decided I was going to be a writer, my first "novel" which got to the magnificent length of one page before I abandoned it, was set in Hong Kong.
I did send rhymes to the children's pages of the local newspaper. These earned points towards a book token prize. Mostly I was writing to a perceived market - I wrote rhymes called "Riddle Me Ree" which were puzzles along the lines of:
My first is in ocean but not in sea
My second is in flower but not in tree...
And I wrote one poem to which a friend said "Did you copy it?" which was a sort of a compliment. And then again, I had a sense it was not. It was a poem about a small boy playing truant from school and going fishing, and I think I had a sense of ease that it was somehow dishonest - it didn't come from "me" - I was making up something totally foreign to me based on what I thought a child's poem should be.
Towards the end of primary school though we were taught a poem I love to this day. This I think was the first real "adult" poet that I was aware of - a poem written for adults but suitable for children, instead of a poem written for children. It was John Masefield's "Sea Fever". I think this poem spoke to me because it made me feel that when I played on the beach and listened to the gulls and the waves I was somehow touching the edge of a big adventure.

Sea Fever
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

By John Masefield (1878-1967).
(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)

More Poetry Thursday here


Anonymous said...

Lovely. I love how you describe touching the edge of an adventure. The first poem I liked as a child I found on my own in a children's book published in 1956 that my mother bought for my sister and brother, who were much older than me. The poem was Carl Sandburg's "Fog," and I still love way he likens fog to little cat feet.

Left-handed Trees... said...

Oh, I remembered this poem the moment I read the second line...though I still cannot say exactly my age or place when I first heard it. Something about the rhythm of Masefield's lines lives in the body...

vicci said...

Yes....I remember this poem now...and what a lovely memory...thank-you for posting it!

paris parfait said...

I remember learning this poem in school. Thanks for sharing the poem and your memories!

Deb R said...

I'm another who had forgottten this poem, but as soon as I started to read it I thought "oh yes! that was wonderful"

Like Lynn, I love the way you relate it to touching the edge of an adventure.

Kay Cooke said...

Lovely! I can identify with a lot of this ... I love that poem too. Thank you.

Chatty said...

My favorite unit to teach is poetry. I could do it all year.

Michele sent me.

Neil said...

That felt very special to learn about a poem that meant so much to you and inspired you as a child.