Nibble Nibble

Last year I read Memorize that poem! in the New York Times. I have never been into poetry much, but it seemed like an interesting idea.

Since ancient times, humans have memorized and recited poetry. Before the invention of writing, the only way to possess a poem was to memorize it. Long after scrolls and folios supplemented our brains, court poets, priests and wandering bards recited poetry in order to entertain and connect with the divine. For individuals, a poem learned by heart could be a lifeline — to grapple with overwhelming emotion or preserve sanity amid the brutalities of prison and warfare.

Yet poetry memorization has become deeply unfashionable, an outmoded practice that many teachers and parents — not to mention students — consider too boring, mindless and just plain difficult for the modern classroom. Besides, who needs to memorize when our smartphones can instantly call up nearly any published poem in the universe?

In fact, the value of learning literature by heart — particularly poetry — has only grown. All of us struggle with shrinking attention spans and a public sphere that is becoming a literary wasteland, bereft of sophisticated language or expressions of empathy beyond one’s own Facebook bubble.

Around the same time, we had checked out some children's poetry for our daughter, so I decided to memorize "Nibble Nibble" by Margaret Wise Brown:

Nibble Nibble Nibble
Goes the mouse in my heart
Nibble Nibble Nibble
Goes the mouse in my heart
Nibble Nibble Nibble
Goes the mouse in my heart
And the mouse in my heart is
You.

Lippity Lippity Clip
Goes the rabbit in my heart
Lippity Lippity Clip
Goes the rabbit in my heart
Lippity Lippity Clip
Goes the rabbit in my heart
And the rabbit in my heart is
You.

Flippity Flippity Flop
Goes the fish in my heart
Flippity Flippity Flop
Goes the fish in my heart
Flippity Flippity Flop
Goes the fish in my heart
And the fish in my heart is
You.

Biff Bang Bang
Goes the hammer in my heart
Biff Bang Bang
Goes the hammer in my heart
Biff Bang Bang
Goes the hammer in my heart
And the hammer in my heart is
You.

Drum Drum Drum
Goes the drum in my heart
Drum Drum Drum
Goes the drum in my heart
Drum Drum Drum
Goes the drum in my heart
And the drum in my heart is
You.

Softly now beats the beat of my heart
Softly now beats the beat of my heart
Softly now beats the beat of my heart
All for the love of you.

Since then, the poem has been part of our bedtime routine. Caroline Kennedy wrote in Poems to Know by Heart, "If we learn poems by heart, we will always have their wisdom to draw on, and we gain an understanding that no one can take away." It's not The Odyssey, but I feel that way about memorizing "Nibble Nibble". It's something special that my daughter and I share, and will always be a part of me.