The brilliant** author and poet Elizabeth Smart believed everyone had at least one recitation in them At her house parties, she would often call out for people to recite from memory for those assembled. This I know from Rosemary Sullivan's excellent biography By Heart (one of the books regrettably lost in the great book purge of 2008). I've often mused on this. If called upon to recite at a gathering, would I be able to do so? And wouldn't it be wonderful to attend such parties where this type of thing is a regular occurrence? Would Goodnight My Little Bunny be enough? One suspects not. However, I did pull that one out once at a family party and it was received happily by the children for its inherent charm. (My ex-husband could do Ode To A Dying Frog from Pickwick Papers at the drop of a hat.)
I've tried several times over the years, with varying success, to memorize pieces of favourite verse. A bit here, a fragment there. The only poem I have ever completely retained was by the wit, the beautiful, the sad genius, Dorothy Parker. Eight perfect lines, read only two or three times, and burned forever on my brain. So here, from memory, is:
If I don't drive around the park
I'm pretty sure to make my mark.
If I'm in bed each night by ten,
I may get back my looks again.
If I abstain from fun and such,
I'll probably amount to much;
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.
I suspect that Dorothy, like me, did give a little bit of a damn. What folks think of you does matter. It's lovely to be liked, to be included. However, she knew that the effort involved in being so terribly liked and the pieces of yourself you have to surrender for the sake of inclusion, are not, in the end, worth it. If you no longer know yourself, what's the point? That's what these seemingly comic and light lines are really saying. That's why they have stayed with me these many years.
**Footnote Hint: Read The Assumption of Rogues and Rascals aloud to yourself at night.