A few years ago Joanna Goddard from A Cup of Jo put out an interesting challenge – memorize a poem. It struck me as such an ingenious idea and an almost lost art. I have always loved poetry and never read it anymore. I have two small books, one of the works of Edgar Allen Poe and another “Great Sonnets” edited by Paul Negri that I used to read and recite (to myself in my room) as an outlet to all my teenage angst. And as I’m obviously very into furniture, I love how one of Jo’s readers said memorized poetry is like “mental furniture” and I can just picture beautiful chairs representing each memorized verse populating a gorgeous sitting room in my brain.
Imagine my surprise when Downton Abbey characters Isobel and Violet begin discussing one of my oft-read poems on the opening show of this latest season.
(Image via Vision TV)
I love when Mrs. Crawley and the Dowager Countess get all feisty on each other but this discussion about Christina Rossetti’s poem Remember was not an argument about flower arranging or who to hire for their wait staff. They were talking about Mrs. Crawley and her grief for her lost son Matthew (um belated spoiler alert, he died).
Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the passing of my father. He was 51, I was 23. Had I been writing this blog ten years ago, I don’t know that I could have written anything legible about this topic. I was devastated and dropped deep into a gulf of grief. I remembered Rossetti’s poem and I looked to it for comfort. Not much was to be had – it was too soon. I shared it with my mother hoping it could help her in some small way. Today I’m sharing it with you.
Remember by Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more, day by day,
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far that you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
(An old-school selfie back from the days of film cameras when you were never quite sure how much if any of your face was going to be in the picture.)
My dad was quiet to those who didn’t know him and such a goof to his family and friends. While it is so easy to be sad for the time I didn’t get with him, I instead choose to think about what an amazing time we did have. I find that now, ten years on, I don’t have to forget to smile. Often times my memories can make me laugh out loud.
Courtney, such a nice tribute to such a nice man….your dad! I know how much you, your mom and the other girls miss him. Life doesn’t always seem fair. I know that Greg is smiling down on you with that infectious smile that he had and how proud he is of what wonderful women you all are! Know in your heart that many people miss him and how many lives he touch! We will all smile for Greg Lehman today! I love you guys!! Barb
So eloquent. I too have come to that time where I remember the good and realize how lucky I was/am. You and your sisters are a living testament to that wonderful man and his/our life
I so admire your decision to focus on how much your life was enriched by the time with your father rather than on what you lost. It takes a conscious decision to do that, because it’s so much easier to give in to grief and self-pity.
The love of my life died eight years ago this month. I’ve lived to be older than all the important men in my life…my partner Carl, my father and my two grandfathers. At 65, I’m older now than any of them were when they died…but, oh, what a wonderful influence they had on my life, and what a legacy they left!
Your dad must have been a wonderful man, because he gave you the strength and wisdom to continue to love him while moving forward, living happily and productively. Sadly, that’s a choice some people can’t or won’t make.
Parents never want to see their children sad, so smile for your dad today. I have a feeling he’s still right by your side.
Downton Abbey has been hard to watch this season for us. Those conversations about grief, and about guilt for moving on and even laughing again – they’ve all hit home.
I had a friend tell me this, and I believe her. We memorize poems so that we can call on them when we need them. My girls regularly memorize poems and recite them – they love doing it, and I think it’s so valuable – even silly ones about animals or play.
The older one (who reads) will stand with the book in her hand, covering the words so that she can only peek as necessary when she’s almost got it memorized. The little one (who is barely reading) does the same thing – which cracks us up – covering up all those words that she doesn’t even know yet.
But I guess she does know them, in her way. Broad vocabularies of words to draw on, when needed, for communication or reflection. You might have not been able to write about the loss of your dad – but maybe you would have, if only in your mind. I find great comfort in all those words stored in my head for when I need them most.
I love that picture. I’m sorry you lost your dad so young. He sounds like a gem.