Work-Life Balance

What is the longest thing you know by heart (for example, a prayer, speech, commercial jingle, etc.)? Why did you learn it?

The Village Blacksmith
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And bear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

For many years, this was the longest thing I knew by heart.

When I am not distracted by other things, I have a weirdly sharp memory.

I learned this in Fifth Grade, apropos of nothing, because I was bored one day.  My Fifth Grade teacher was a nut for Mathematics, and I Was Not.   I am not bad at it, per se, I am just intimidated by it.  And I am particularly reluctant to do things that others try to force upon me.

So I worked out a deal whereby each time he tried to force numbers upon me, I would have equal and opposite “luxury time” to do the things I liked.  Which typically meant sticking my nose in books; reading and writing stories and poems; etc.

(I was as difficult and precocious a child at school as I was at home.)

I learned the poem, and I was trotted out to recite it from memory to all of the Fifth Grade classes.  What was remarkable, really, was that I learned it by heart in just a few hours time.

I can’t say that I can recall the whole thing by heart anymore.

These days, the best I can do from memory is the 15th Psalm (King James Version), or the lyrics to pretty much every 70s cheeseball love song.


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  1. Somehow, I still know the entire Canterbury Tales Prologue (in Middle English) by heart, but I can barely remember the gist of most books I read in college as part of my English major. My husband recently challenged me to start reciting it randomly next time we’re out drinking at a bar, and I’m thinking of taking him up on it just because it’s such a silly thing to still know after all these years. I would much rather have remembered something by Keats or Shelley.

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