Red Bricks and Poetry
by susan dayley in

A long ago friend of mine recently gave me a book that contained one of his essays: The Best of Mormonism 2009. Highly worth reading if you can find it. In his story he wrote of experiences that reverberated with some of my own. Maybe because we grew up in the same Idaho ‘city,’ maybe because I remembered going to church in the late light of a winter day and returning in darkness, but mostly it was the memories of an old brick schoolhouse. He attended Washington Elementary, I attended one about two miles away called Whittier. Washington, like the great man it was named for, still stands, a seemingly permanent part of the lives of the people who went there. But Whittier is gone. It is a parking lot now; nearly forgotten like the poet it was named for. When I was teaching third grade (in an old red-brick school house, but many miles and a whole State away) I taught a unit on poetry. There, between lines from Longfellow’s Children’s Hour:

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

And Wordsworth’s Daffodils:

I wander’d lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;

I took three days and we discussed John Greenleaf Whittier, as a nod to my early days in a building named for him, though I never knew then who Whittier was.
So this morning I thought about the contrasts between the standing Washington and the forgotten Whittier and the worry emerged that amidst the forgetting of poets, that we might also be forgetting the statesmen. What if Washington becomes a name that no longer is connected to deeds and principles, but merely a title? Will the president be forgotten like the poet? What was it he fought for, what was it Whittier wrote about? Will we remember?

Ours by traditions dear and old
Which make the race
Our wards to cherish and uphold,
And cast their freedom in the mould
Of Christian grace.


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