When I was in the third grade at Claflin School in Newtonville, Massachusetts, our teacher Miss Griffin required each of us to memorize a poem every week, and to recite that poem in front of the whole class. My father took this as a signal to delve into his treasured books of poetry. (He found such gems as the Gettysburg Address, which granted was not really a poem but I still had to memorize!) He coached me daily until I had committed the poem of the week to memory. Of course, my third grade class had no idea of the significance of what I was reciting, but my father understood (and he made sure I understood) the true meaning of the verses. Among the longest poems I had to memorize was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's THE VILLAGE BLACKSMITH; Daddy himself would often go around reciting at least the first verse. He identified with the Smithy.
I not only learned the poem I have copied below 'by heart' (as we used say), but committed to heart my love for the mighty who work by the sweat of their brow and owe no man.
THE VILLAGE BLACKSMITH
Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.
Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.
And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.
He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.
It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
N.B. When I was 8 years old, there still was a 'smithy' working in one of the sheds in the village of Newtonville, Massachusetts, on Washington Street between Lowell Avenue and Walnut Streets, where the public parking lot today has wiped away all memory of the Village Blacksmith!