Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Today I’m sharing two of my favorite things. The first is the poem Clipper Ships and Captains by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét. I was compelled to memorize and recite a poem in front of my fifth grade class. I was already keen on the idea of exploring the world and selected this poem. Yes, I was a nerd. I was terrified I’d forget the words, but fortunately I didn’t. In fact, I can still recite Clipper Ships and Captains in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Clipper Ships and Captains

There was a time before our time,
It will not come again,
When the best ships still were wooden ships
But the men were iron men.

From Stonington to Kennebunk
The Yankee hammers plied
To build the clippers of the wave
That were New England's pride.

The "Flying Cloud," the "Northern Light,"
The "Sovereign of the Seas"—

There was salt music in the blood
That thought of names like these.

"Sea Witch," "Red Jacket," "Golden Age,"
And "Chariot of Fame,"
The whole world gaped to look at them
Before the steamship came.

Their cargoes were of tea and gold,
Their bows a cutting blade;
And, on the bridge, the skippers walked,
Lords of the China trade.

The skippers with the little beards
And the New England drawl,
Who knew Hong Kong and Marblehead
And the Pole Star over all.

Stately as churches, swift as gulls,
They trod the oceans, then
No man had seen such ships before
And none will see again.

Continuing the theme of ocean travel is Sunset at Sea, painted in 1911 by American Impressionist Childe Hassam. During the previous administration you might have seen photographs of the Oval Office that included one of Hassam’s famous flag paintings. The Impressionists were famous for banishing black from their palette, but Hassam couldn’t resist using a dash of black for the tiny ship. This painting delights my senses and propels me into imaginary voyages of adventure and discovery.

Did you have to recite a poem in front of your class? What was it and can you still remember it?


  1. Cool. I can't recite any poems from memory. Maybe a little from "The Raven" if only because I've seen that old Simpsons Halloween special that used it like a million times.

  2. Great poem, loved the picture. We had to memorize a poem for school as well. Most of the kids chose "Fog" I don't know why.

    Fog by Carl Sandburg
    THE fog comes
    on little cat feet.

    It sits looking
    over harbor and city
    on silent haunches
    and then moves on.

  3. Thanks, Stephen. I enjoyed the poem and that's a great picture.

  4. Beautiful art. I love the tiny ship on the horizon. Kind of puts things into perspective, doesn't it?


  5. I love the poem and I had never seen the lovely picture before. I can see why it's a favorite of yours. As far as reciting poems in front of class? I think the first one I had to do was Jabberwock. I can still remember most of it-

  6. ours was worse than that - we were asked to find funny songs - although to be honest that was opening a hornet's nest looking back and its just as well i didn't know the Not Noel Coward song from Monty Python back then (actually, thinking about it - it wasn't written then - ye gads!)

    Anyway - the best my family could manage was:
    The yellow rose of texas, and the man from laramie
    Went to Davy Crockett's and had a cup of tea
    The tea was so delicious, they had another cup
    And poor old Davy Crockett had to do the washing up

    Suffice to say - i was extremely glad when i never got asked to do mine

  7. Sounds like somebody has a hankerin' to travel!!!!! In grammer school we were always asked to memorize poems...and in those days and in small communities, we used to put on programs, where the parents would all come to hear us. And we sang hymns in school, even though it was a public school...had no idea what they meant, we just had to memorize the song. Imagine my surprise when I started going to church years later and found myself saying..."hey, I know this song!" LOL!!

  8. We writers need to read more poetry - it makes us better writers. Nice poem, thanks for sharing. Loved the painting as well. Mindy

  9. The poem was Fleas:
    Had 'em

    The teacher was not amused.
    I still dislike memorizing anything.
    We read John Brown's Body when I was H.S., and I actually enjoyed it. Also enjoyed his story The Devil and Daniel Webster.

  10. I did and it has something to do with the smell of new mown grass. So glad that I cannot remember it. It was probably awful and I know that my knees were shaking when I stood before the class and read it.

  11. Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout
    by Shel Silverstein

    I loved it so much that I ended up memorizing several of the "Where the Sidewalk Ends" poems. Loved that collection as a child. Have even passed them on to my kids.

  12. No I didn't have to recite a poem ever, but had to read many poems in my literature class. I rarely ever understood them either. I do understand yours though.

    As for the painting? Well, let's just say I'll pass. I'm not artsy for the most part. I wouldn't know a good painting from a bad one or a good poem from a bad one. Oh well.

    Have a terrific day. :)

  13. I read poetry on here quite often, but sadly it's been a while since I sat and read any from books or anything. Perhaps I should devote some time for that. Love this one though!

  14. So love that painting. I guess I really am an impressionist fan. As to poems, the one I always remember, probably because I had to recite it before my 7th grade class and because I love the flowers is Daffodils by Walter de la Mare. (The part I loved the best and would make a very dramatic gesture to the class...'when all at once I saw a crowd...a host of golden daffodils!') Funny how these things stick in your mind eh?

  15. I figured since memorizing poems was not a useful task that I would do a strange one and memorized Jaberwokey From Through the Looking Glass. I still remember it.

  16. As a high school sophomore I recited The Raven. I could still do it years later, but it's mostly gone now. I learned Jabberwocky, too. It took years to come across poetry that moved me.

  17. If I had to recite a poem from memory back in high school, I likely froze and opted to do extra credit or something - and I certainly wouldn't be able to remember it if I did...Ha ha. I LOVED this, and I absolutely adore poetry. I think it is my purest passion for writing, for sure. I have a crazy idea to do some video posts of poem readings, (yeah - me - the one that can't stand being on on the edge, I am) and it would be AWESOME to see you recite that poem! Think about it!

  18. Great poem and yes we had to memorize some of our Scots national poets work, he being Rabbie (Robert) Burns.

  19. I had to memorize the Gettysburg Address when I was in 4th or 5th grade I think it was, and did so proudly. But, poems... Robert Frost! "Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening" and "Two Roads Diverged In A Yellow Wood"! But I can only remember parts now. It's been about 400 years ... more or less.

    I love YOUR poem and that painting brings back great memories of my argument with my high school painting teacher. I used black in a water color painting and she told me that wasn't "done." Thank you Childe Hassam (even though the teacher then said she didn't care, it wasn't done in HER class.

  20. Eletelephony was the one i had to recite, and yes, i still remember it.

    That painting makes me want to go sailing right now.

  21. Purple Cow

    I never saw a purple cow.
    I never hope to see one.
    But I can tell you anyhow...
    I'd rather see than be one.

    For the record, I WAS very young. I found it in a book at my grandma's house.

  22. I envy your ability to memorize and to a lessor amount your nerdiness. I was a poor student and struggled through school academically and was bullied too. I don't have fond memories of that period in life. Only later in life did I discover I'm Dyslexic.

    That said, I read the poem out loud for my wife who loves poetry. She told me that she recited Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas. She only remembers bits here and there.

  23. Your post reminded me of how much I disliked memorizing and reciting poetry in front of my class, but how much more I enjoyed reading novels about the great explorers traveling in their wooden ships (people like Cook and Magellan).

  24. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood....

  25. Nice painting, and so . . . "I must go 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 . . . "

  26. We had to learn "In Flanders Fields," and "Evangeline." I can remember parts of them, but I'm much older than you are!

    I'm not familiar with your poem, but I like it. Also, Stonington and Kennebunk are towns in Maine; Marblehead is in Massachusetts, so it hits close to home.

  27. I had to recite the lines from a favorite song, speech, not singing it. To tell you how much it meant to me, I don't remember the song I picked. (We are talking 3rd grade, my tastes have changed considerably.) I seem to remember Mom and Dad pleased that I was able to do it (I am introverted, and talking in front of people is not fun. I have improved over the years, but then it would have been much more merciful to shoot me, in my opinion...)


  28. I don't remember reciting but we had to write the stuff out. I think much more would be learned from reciting...speech , expression , audience .
    I detest memorizing and cannot remember anything I memorized. I memorized hundreds of bible verses when I was a kid. They're all gone.

  29. I know that I hated reciting, presentation , anything to do with talking infront of public, till now :p

  30. At school we had to perform in the annual Estedford. Which is a competition of performing arts. Poetry reading, music, singing etc. I remember the poem my age group was assigned to perform called "The Black Cat". I was only young and absolutely terrified. I got a highly commended for my efforts.
    Later in my high school years our speech and drama class entered the Estedford for the two years running and we won our category both years. The first year we said a group poem, and the following year we did a kind of poem/performance. That poem was "The Naming of Cats" by T.S. Eliot. And yes, we dressed up as cats. It was an awesome night.

  31. It's things like these which called me to the sea 37 years ago. Thanks very much.
    My favorite poem is, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." Very thought-provoking and evocative (at least to me).

  32. in french class we had to memorize and recite a poem by Verlaine .. i did poorly .. i might have even flunked .. but i can still recall the opening words .. Il pleure dans mon coeur / Comme il pleut sur la ville.

    that's it .. thats all i remember

  33. I don't recall having to recite any poems, but I do remember have to write quite a few of them in the sixth grade. Maybe I should give it a try again.

  34. I don't remember having to memorize and recite any poems either, but I do remember having to take speech in my Freshman year- oh I was so nervous and shaky-but by the end of the year I had learned to be more confident and actually enjoyed the last part of the class with debating.
    The Childe Hassam painting is lovely- especially that bit of black ship off in the distance. I've always been very fond of Impressionism and Expressionism. Beautiful approaches to paint.

  35. I suspect I must have had to memorize a poem and recite it but for the life of me, I have no memory of it.

  36. *There was a time before our time,
    It will not come again,
    When the best ships still were wooden ships
    But the men were iron men.*

    This part makes me cry. The-it will not come again-part......

    I went to Catholic school.
    Poetry was frivolous.
    As was any other form of art.
    I can, however, recite the mass in Latin as well as
    having a handy mental list of venial vs. mortal sins.

    And people wonder why I'm like I am...........

    Have a lovely day!

    Pirate Girl

  37. Yes, in Speech Class in high school. I can remember it trailing off with: "Lest we forget. Lest we forget. And my classmates would tilt their head side to side whenever I had to read that, such that it resembled "Saturday Night Live"! I read this poem aloud. It reminded me of Pan Am, a great airline that named each and every jet with the word "Clipper" after these same Clipper Ships. A great post!

  38. I rarely read poetry, shh, don't tell anyone, but when I do, I like to hear the prose. This reminds me of Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

    I have blocked all grade school, front of the class, speaking from my memory.

  39. The Gettysburg Address! So not nearly as lyrical nor did it lend itself to such beautiful images. I'm impressed you still remember this--I can only remember the first line of mine--clearly it stuck.

  40. i can't recall ever having to recite a poem but on more than one occasion i had to write one. i do recall sitting with my great grandmother though who could still recite many, many of the poems and verse she had learned in school.

  41. Being able to recite a poem in front of your fifth grade class doesn't sound nerd-ish. It sounds like you had a zest for adventure even back then. What did your classmates think of your accomplishment? Did others recite and do as well?

  42. I learned this poem in 4th grade

    by Edgar A. Guest

    Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
    You've all that the greatest of men have had,
    Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes
    And a brain to use if you would be wise.
    With this equipment they all began,
    So start for the top and say, "I can."

    Look them over, the wise and great
    They take their food from a common plate,
    And similar knives and forks they use,
    With similar laces they tie their shoes.
    The world considers them brave and smart,
    But you've all they had when they made their start.

    You can triumph and come to skill,
    You can be great if you only will.
    You're well equipped for what fight you choose,
    You have legs and arms and a brain to use,
    And the man who has risen great deeds to do
    Began his life with no more than you.

    You are the handicap you must face,
    You are the one who must choose your place,
    You must say where you want to go,
    How much you will study the truth to know.
    God has equipped you for life, but He
    Lets you decide what you want to be.

    Courage must come from the soul within,
    The man must furnish the will to win.
    So figure it out for yourself, my lad.
    You were born with all that the great have had,
    With your equipment they all began,
    Get hold of yourself and say: "I can."