It’s Sleeping in My Memory

you're breaking my heart, you're shaking my confidence daily

For reasons unclear to me, as I was driving to work, some lines from Alexander Pope’s stupendously long poem, An Essay on Criticism, popped into my head.  I would like to say that the poem is roughly 362 pages long, and I only read up to these lines, which occur very soon into the poem.  I mean, I’m sure I “read” this poem, but only if “read” is defined loosely as “slept five minutes, forgot entire meaning, read five minutes, slept five minutes, forgot entire meaning, repeat for six weeks.”   The whole thing is written in couplets.  Reading it was like riding on a bouncing stagecoach.  Anyway, the lines are:   “Unfinished things, one knows not what to call,/Their generation’s so equivocal.” 

What impresses me now is that Pope pulled off rhyming “not what to call” with “equivocal.”  I mean, really.  ” Call” doesn’t  truly rhyme with equivocal.  But when you make a line out of those four words (“not what to call”) you get something that rhymes with equivocal and doesn’t sound stupid.  What must have been floating around in his head, waiting to become a rhyme I cannot even begin to imagine. 

But I digress.  What I really have today is a question.  I am curious about what pops into people’s heads.  This is the first time I can remember that actual poetry appeared.  Mostly what comes to me when I’m driving to work is either (a) something someone said to me once that so shocked me that I still think about it (for example, a boyfriend, on his sexual responsibilities: “I am not a service station,”) or lines from pretty much any song on Bridge Over Troubled Water (“still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”)     

What lines of poetry or dialogue or description or wisdom or insult pop up in your head with some regularity?

20 thoughts on “It’s Sleeping in My Memory

  1. Funny, I was wondering today why it was that I had an old church hymn ruminating in my brain. I was humming the tune, but couldn’t recall the words. Maybe it was because I subconsciously thought that the garage door repair person would be my savior? Alas, it was not too be — only a quote for much $$ to replace and the warning that I could hurt myself severely if I tried to open it until new one was installed. When I see the album art to Bridge of Troubled Water, I often recall how my mother initially banned the album. I believe because of “The Boxer” and mention of seeking comfort in the whores on 7th Avenue. Her priest told her that it was okay for her teenagers to be exposed to that sort of thing (in song, not in person). If I only knew why I think of the things that I do when I do — or why I can’t remember the things I need to remember — I think I would be better off.

  2. What with the nano and its podcasts, nothing is ever able to pop into my head. Too noisy in there.

    But what kind of answer is that? 😦

    Ok. I’m waiting quietly… Fruits. Fruits are popping up in there. First a cantaloupe and then grapes and finally a slice of watermelon.

  3. ‘Reading it was like riding on a bouncing stagecoach.’ lol! What a fantastic line! Now don’t worry about me, but rather too often, regardless of what I begin thinking about, I end up imagining disaster. I seem to have an imagination based on Greek tragedy. I like the idea of thinking about fruit, though – I should try that more often.

  4. Oooh, what a great question. I spent a lot of time memorizing poems when I was younger for the fun of it – so various lines from Samuel Tayor Coleridge, William Butler Yeats (I will arise and go now, go to Innisfree) and often bits of the poem J. Alfred Prufrock (do I dare to eat a peach) but also, you know. lyrics from Lady Gaga – I’m lebanese! I’m orient! or “let’s go see the killers and make out in the bleachers…”

  5. “The nicest thing that my room contains
    is the iron bed where I rest my brains.”
    I had a writing professor once who read that to us to illustrate the sort of thing he had to put up with in student poems. It was an epic poem, apparently, of which those were the first two lines. He was merciful and didn’t inflict the rest on us.

    “The only way out is through.” (Alanis Morrissette). That always sticks with me. Good words when you’re about to start revising a novel. 🙂

    “An artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them.” (Andy Warhol)

  6. “The fascination of what’s difficult.” And I have the whole Yeats poem above my desk (“Theatre business, management of men./I swear before the dawn comes round again/I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt. “)

  7. Hey Gabriel — That reminds me of Rilke, who was big on difficulty too. “Good things are difficult,” comes to mind at least once a day.

    Mr. Collins — See? The couplet, no matter how bad, has incredible staying power. And thank you for your other quotes. Also, I am not so sure I want to see myself as others see me. Our blindness in this area might be a darwinian protection against shame so great it could kill you.

    Courtney — I predict that now, in between podcasts, Joe will start to chant “do I dare to eat a peach,” when he has his fruit-related daydreams.

    litlove — I used to dream regularly of the apocalypse. And I too have these weird, what would happen if X incredibly unlikely thing happened to my kid — but that is why they are still alive, don’t you think?

    Joe — what nice things pop up in your head. No mushroom clouds, no falling off the Eiffel Tower. I’ll bet you have good dreams, too.

    Cam — I loved that line, which I’m pretty sure my mother was oblivious to. It was very noisy in our house. What impresses me is that you probably do know why you were thinking about that hymn. I wish I could remember hymns. But Lady Gaga is her own kind of goddess, I guess.

  8. ‘Reading it was like riding on a bouncing stagecoach.’ 🙂 except that since I have motion sickness, that wouldn’t be a good sign at all and rather remind me of nausea!
    To come back to your question, I recently found out that when I have a song in my head, many times it is very evocative of an underlying (unconscious) issue. For example, recently I was running around at work and the tune I was humming were a Chinese song meaning “becoming a superman”… or “je ne veux pas travailler” by Pink Martini… a rather telling confession isnt’it?

  9. At least you can remember that you read Essay on Criticism. I am sure I must have read it or at least some of it in college since I was an English major but I have no recollection of the experience. The things that pop into my head are usually song lyrics, sometimes from songs I haven’t heard in ages. Last week it was Flettword Mac. This week I seem to have a line from an Alanis Morissette song stuck in my head: “Oh this could get messy, but you don’t seem to mind.”

  10. Stefanie, Actually, I could not remember the name of it. I love google — i just typed in the lines I remembered and there it was, the whole stupendous thing. And I love that Alanis Morissette lyric. The you who doesn’t seem to mind sounds like a character in a novel.

    I think you that’s so interesting, Pauline — and I want to know more about this Pink Martini — this sounds like good music for work!!

  11. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, the line “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” often wanders through my head when I am driving up to work. Also the poem, “Jim, Who ran away from his nurse, and was eaten by a lion.” Probably no connection, just the sheer boredom of driving the same 50 miles of Interstate 5 every morning for 17 bloody years.

  12. Whenever it rains I remember a poem I learned in French which goes: “Il pleut dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville. Quelle est cette langueur qui penetre mon coeur?”

  13. Most commonly I find my brain fixated on scurrilous extempore lyrics sung to the tune of the British National Anthem. I live in fear of Queen Elizabeth pronouncing the dread words, “Off with his head!”

  14. I remember that things used to pop into my head all the time, but I don’t remember what they were. It seems as though that free-form thinking must be creativity; with me, the analytic side may be getting the upper hand as I get older.

    I guess lines from Tennyson and Wordsworth or dialogue from “On the Waterfront” occasionally go running through my head, but they’re always pretty tightly bound to a context. Maybe I need a vacation.

    My favorite bit of Tennyson to remember is from Ulysses. I hate to lift it out of its proper context, and Ulysses is a short poem, so I won’t quote the individual lines. They are very plain and simple, but very strong.

  15. Hello Mr. Williamsburg (that makes you sound like a body builder champion, I realize). Ulysses is a terrific poem. One of my sons memorized it for school and I think it is such a good thing to have in one’s head: to strive to seek to find and not to yield — a good thing to remember on hard days!! (I cannot rest from travel.. I will drink life to the lees, whatever lees are.)

    Archie — it seems to me that this is an important obligation in these times of royalty worship, which seems to be based on nothing more than inoffensive clothing, shiny hair and giving up eating in order to make the inoffensive clothing hang on the body without a bump in sight. So carry on with the singing of scurrilous extempore lyrics — your head is just where it should be.

    Ruth — I have no idea what those lines mean, but they look awfully classy in the comments section!

    Oh Kathy 50 miles of I-5!! At least you have books waiting at your destinations.

  16. “God is in his heaven and all is right with the world” – Robert Browning
    “walk placidly amidst the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence” from the Desiderata

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