Friday, June 12, 2009

A poem moment

I went to a funeral this week. A good friend’s elderly mother passed away, at age 89, peacefully in her sleep on Sunday morning, surrounded by her family. At her funeral, her oldest son (my good friend) spoke briefly about her life and ended his eulogy with a poem. I’ve written before about how lovely and significant I think it is that we turn to poetry at such times, so it was special to see this occur. But I was even more touched and surprised when he prefaced his reading with a note that his mom had chosen this poetry when she was in sixth grade (in 1932), memorized it, and performed it so successfully, that her teacher took her around the school to show off. That stuck with her throughout her life and she recited the poem (and many other things from memory) even in her 80’s. Her son apologized in advance for any stumbling over the words, and then read this classic poem by Eugene Field out loud (it was also printed on the back of the small funeral “program.”)

The Fate of the Flimflam
by Eugene Field

A flimflam flopped from a fillamaloo,
Where the pollywog pinkled so pale,
And the pipkin piped a petulant "pooh"
To the garrulous gawp of the gale.
"Oh,woe to the swap of the sweeping swipe
That booms on the bobbling bay!"
Snickered the snark to the snoozing snipe
That lurked where the lamprey lay.

The gluglug glinked in the glimmering gloam,
Where the buzbuz bumbled his bee-
When the flimflam flitted, all flecked with foam,
From the sozzling and succulent sea.
"Oh, swither the swipe, with its sweltering sweep!"
She swore as she swayed in a swoon,
And a doleful dank dumped over the deep,
To the lay of the limpid loon!

[Also available here.]

I was familiar with Field and his most famous poem, "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod,” but I had never encountered “The Fate of the Flimflam.” Fun! (So Jabberwocky-ish! I wonder which one came first? Must check that!) And the whole crowd was tickled at this moment in an otherwise serious service.

I'm not a big fan of forced memorization, but love it when it happens naturally-- when a child chooses a poem to treasure, or simple repetition just engraves a poem on your memory. And I absolutely love that a poem from childhood has been a source of lifelong joy and comfort for nearly 90 years for Leona Lawson-- and for so many. I wish that for every child. That's what keeps me and my blog going.

For more poetry serendipity, join the Poetry Friday group at Critique de Mr. Chompchomp.

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell © 2009. All rights reserved.

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Carrie said...

I learned to "read" by asking every family member to read me Dennis Lee (over and over), until I had Alligator Pie memorized. Then I'd sit with my stuffed animals and read to them! Some of my favorite childhood memories include poetry... no doubt a huge influence on me and my writing now. There's something fantastical about children's poetry - the content, the cadence, the imagination...nice to hear that others feel the same way!

Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu said...

What difficult poem to memorize! No real meaning to latch onto!

Memorization is a good practice, though, to keep the mind alert. This one would do that beautifully!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by. I agree about the value of self-motivated memorization. Lovely stories!

Scattering Lupines said...

SO happy to now know of this wonderful piece! PLEASE keep your wonderful blog going! I love it...

Sylvia Vardell said...

It was a fun discovery for me, too. And thanks so much for your kind words!

Benjamin Harrell said...

Great piece, it was definitely a good read.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thank you, Benjamin, for your kind compliment.

Anonymous said...

I have been challenging my grade sixes to memorise this poem for years! The first child to do so in each class gets a bar of chocolate of their choice. I've given away many bars of chocolate over the years.