Gather the rose
By Maegan Donovan
“Mama, can you read She Walks in Beauty?” I look forward to this question from my two-year-old daughter each night before bedtime. Despite the stack of books on my nightstand – everything from When Breath Becomes Air and Rebel Girls to Alice in Wonderland and Dr. Seuss – she always manages to find my compendium of the world’s best poetry and demands a few verses from Byron, Herrick or Browning. And so our evening reading routine begins.
At any point in the day, my nightstand is a revolving bookshelf of first-time reading, everyday reading, couples reading and my daughter’s rotating favorites. I typically place whichever works in which I’m currently engrossed – at present, Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted – next to my bedside, in addition to interesting narratives that my husband and I read together and a pile of children’s books for our daughter. As you might imagine, it gets chaotic and messy. But one book that has become a mainstay in our book haven is the Dover Thrift edition of 100 Best-Loved Poems.
Poetry has always been challenging and highly emotional for me. The sophisticated use of language, elevated vocabulary and, perhaps most importantly, the tumultuous, duplicitous and sometimes tortured lives of the poets that is the driving force behind their words all embolden me to devote more time to verse. For myself, it’s a way of connecting with the past. It makes me feel as though I’m forging relationships to those who have written or relied upon poetry throughout history to help them overcome times of great sorrow, political and social turmoil or turning points in their lives. It wasn’t until several months ago that I realized how much my young toddler was paying attention to the works I was reading aloud.
Out of the blue one fussy bedtime, she kept asking me to recite “Gather the rose.” I finally realized she was referring to Robert Herrick’s To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time, which I would recite to her whenever she was cranky or hurt. Once I started reciting the poem, she calmed down and began to chant along with me. This soon became a routine and quickly expanded to other poems. This particular book has added another layer of curiosity and joy to the world of reading that I share with my daughter. Aside from the more obvious benefits of reading poetry to a young child, it’s helped me get to know her and her tastes better. It’s opened the door to talking about themes and feelings. And snuggling together while reading a few verses has become the calming and relaxing end to our busy days.
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Robert Herrick, 1591 - 1674
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
Maegan Donovan is a historian and mother who spends most of her money feeding her book addiction.