Sand and sounds

Even though I know the poem is not really about sand (or is it?), this

[more macro photography of gorgeous grains of sand here]

made me think of this:

Mock On, Mock On, Voltaire, Rousseau

William Blake

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
Mock on, mock on; ’tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton’s Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.

Far and away the best thing about our six years of homeschooling was our weekly poem memorization.  I know my kids hated every minute of it, the bums, but someday, when they’re trying to put something into words, they’ll thank me.
Now that the kids are back in the classroom, I keep meaning to resurrect our habit of learning poems.  I didn’t try too hard to make the kids analyze things — I just wanted them to have the sounds and images in their heads, in case they needed them later.  Hearing the Psalms at Mass is good for this, too.  I printed out a bunch of short poems, and I’m just going to hang them up around the house, in places where people tend to hang out and stare at the walls anyway.
No offense, Billy Blake, but you’re going in the bathroom.


  1. WHen my son was in second grade (homeschool) he learned the whole poem, The tale of Custard the Dragon, by Ogden Nash. He recited it like a pro! We all love that poem to this day. He is 25 now..

  2. i told the children they’d be well prepared for summer jobs holding “slow” signs at road works, having reams of poetry and shakespeare tucked away under their hard hat.

  3. My mom made us, errr, me, memorize poems when we were homeschooled. It turns out I’m a savant when it comes to rote memorization. I have about 45 minutes of poetry memorized even now. Thanks Mom!

    It’s a beautiful thing to have images and phrases tucked away for later. Sometimes I run through poems or stories in my head while I’m driving or doing rote work, and I don’t realize I’m doing it until I think, “Oh, I just spent an hour scrubbing soap scum and thinking about Moses.”

  4. Yep, my mom always had things (usually maps but not always) on the bathroom walls. Also on cereal boxes: poems, foreign language vocab, grammar rules, you name it, it went on a cereal box at our house.

    • Oh, good idea! Betty Duffy had a piece about a poem her mother posted in the bathroom. It would be interesting to take a survey of what various families decided was important enough to post in the bathroom.

      • haha, that would be awesome.
        we have Mother Teresa, Teresa of Avila, a prayer for the abortion supervisory committee in New Zealand, and this:
        ” You who are baptised:
        Conquer the darkness
        by the light your candles,
        and the silence
        by your hosannas!”
        St Ephraem the Syrian (our eldest son is named Ephrem)

  5. Jean Kerr (wife of former NY Times theater critic Walter Kerr) wrote a book of collected essays called Penny Candy; and one of the essays discussed the poetry evenings they forced on their children (6 of them) as they grew up. It’s beautifully written – funny, thoughtful, and sad all at once. It would be well worth it to find the book, if only for that chapter (although the rest of it was pretty good, too).

    Also, she’s the woman who wrote Please Don’t Eat the Daisies – they made a tv show out of it in the 60’s or 70’s.

    • I remember that essay! She embarrassed all the children by breaking into tears in the middle of “Jon Anderson, My Jo.” I could never make it all the way through “Margaret, Are You Grieving” — boy, did the kids hate that.

      • Isn’t she awesome? I’m glad some people are still reading her. I loved “Marriage: Unsafe at Any Speed” also.

  6. I used to memorise heaps of poetry as a child (no parental coercion, although I think some of that nerdiness was inherited and therefore not my fault) and can still remember plenty of it. Louis MacNeice’s “Prayer Before Birth” and Larkin’s “An Arundel Tomb” still my go-tos for sleepless nights/ scary walks home in the dark. It’s amazing memorising something when you don’t fully understand it and then having the full meaning unfold several years later in the middle of a private recitaton.

  7. I leave poetry scattered around the house, too. I have a wall in the “kids’ hallway” that I painted with blackboard paint and keep poems on, depending on the season, my mood, or what I think might appeal to them. We’re failed homeschoolers, and the loss of poetry in schoolwork was one of the heartbreaks for me, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see my kids just absorbing the poems from the chalkboard. Right now we have “Spring” by Hopkins on there, inspired by your sister’s blog. I love that poem!

  8. YOINK. Idea stolen. Filed away, to be used as the kids get bigger (they are 2 1/2, 1 1/2 and 6/9’s-aka not quite born yet). LOVE.

  9. I can still recite Annabel Lee and Whose Woods are These from 6th grade some 30 odd years ago. Thank you Ms. DeNunzio!

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