A few days ago, out of nowhere, my daughter started singing, "Swing low sweet chariot, umma umma carry me home." It's one song out of 3 CDs full of children's songs that she listens to in the car (sung by Raffi, our favorite children's entertainer), and she hasn't listened to music in the car for a few months now. I attribute her recollection to the fact that we've been reading aloud to her for hours a day since she was a baby.
I remember reading somewhere that song lyrics are the foundation for children to learn about words, and to become interested in rhymes, poetry and the magic of the well-written prose.
Recalling songs from my childhood, I'm surprised that, in a primary school in the Vancouver suburbs, our teacher taught us English songs like "Drunken Sailor", American songs such as "It's a Long Way to Tiperary" and Australian songs such as "Waltzing Matilda"; was it just that teacher or was the school curriculum so "cross-cultural"? I'm certain I didn't know the meanings of what I was singing back then, but I loved the way the words rolled out.
I love reading poetry out loud, and nowadays reading children's stories aloud to my daughter also brings me joy. One talent I wish I had: the ability to recite my poems by heart, at least my favorite ones. (Another wished-for talent would be cooking.)
I still have my 1983 edition of The Norton Anthology of Poetry. In recent years, I've tried other poetry collections, including Harold Bloom's The Best Poems of the English Language, and even the latest edition of The Norton Anthology, but they don't compare to the comfort of knowing exactly where to find the old favorites, as well as the tiny thrill of discovering a new poem, in my dog-eared copy.