One of the things we had to do at school was learn great tracts of classical poetry and prose in order to appear well educated. We had tests where we had to write out whichever poem or Shakespearean speech we had been required to learn, and woe betide anyone who made too many mistakes. They would be hauled up in front of the class and made to quote out loud, inevitably failing; then they would have to sit in detention writing out the piece seemingly endlessly. For some bizarre reason this regime was intended to imbue a love of literature. Adults were crazy in those days (not like now, of course!).
I was blessed with a good memory for such exercises, so found them relatively painless. I can still remember quite a few quotations, imperfectly in many cases; for some inexplicabel reason I have failed to find a daily application for them in my working life. Who would have guessed?
In spite of this traumatic introduction to literature I still enjoy reading poetry occasionally and so have discovered over time a body of work in which I find whatever I need to suit my mood – a Quotation Toolkit, if you will, to get me through the day. It’s good to know that someone somewhere has managed to express the feelings and thoughts within me more coherently than I am able.
Over the past few years my favourite quotation has come from Wordsworth, a poet I don’t usually relate to, but who wrote the wonderful “Valedictory Sonnet to the River Duddon”.
The poem as a whole answers a deep desire within me to feel that what we do on this Earth is in some way a memorial to us after we are gone. I don’t believe in an after life, but I would like to be remembered well, and in this way achieve a measure of immortality, however brief. Wordsworth expressed that need perfectly, ending his sonnet:
“Enough, if something from our hands have power
To live, and act, and serve the future hour;
And if, as toward the silent tomb we go,
Through love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower,
We feel that we are greater than we know.”
Through our actions we make our lives greater than our mortal span. What better epitaph could we desire?