It’s a hot high summer day, and why not write about my mother? She
knew vast amounts of poetry, for which she reserved a different, pleasure-filled, voice. What can I remember her reciting (usually a few lines, more or less apposite to the conversation)? “My candle burns at both ends/ It shall not last the night/ But oh my foes and ah my friends/ It gives such a lovely light!” (and you could hear how lovely that light was). “Out of the night that covers me/ Black as the pit from pole to pole/ I thank whatever gods there be/ For my unconquerable soul/ It matters not how strait the gate/ How charged with punishment the scroll/ I am the master of my fate/ I am the captain of my soul!” And “I am His Majesty’s dog at Kew/ Pray tell me sir; whose dog are you?” Again, (strangely, as part of a story about me when I was still in my crib), “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow/ Creeps at this petty pace from day to day/ And all our yesterdays are but candles/ Lighting fools the way to dusty death.”
Once in a great while: “My love is like a red, red rose/ That’s newly born in spring.”
More lines recite themselves for me. “Abou Ben Adhem, may his tribe increase!/ Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace.” “Jenny kissed me when we met/ Jumping from the chair she sat on/ Time, you thief, who love to get/ Sweets in your list; put that in!” (My father recited limericks, sang many songs, while she sang few and reluctantly. The only one I can recall her singing with any sureness is “The Lost Chord.”)
She had a gift for apt misquotation which I wished I’d valued more. I
remember only a few; one was the Black Pearl of Calcutta, plainly a rare and fabulous jewel. Another is bumbling along with the bumbling bumble bees, which is , I think, an improvement over the original tumbling along with the tumbling tumbleweeds, which sounds rather dreary. The bumbling bumble bees, on the other hand, sound like amusing, even lovable company. My brother and I, smart alecks both, would generally correct her, so that the wonderful gem became a horrible dungeon, the stingless, well-meaning bees rootless balls of vegetation.