When I was little, my younger sister, Krista, and I had a book titled 1,001 Famous Poems. We shared a room and stayed up late each night memorizing poetry. To help us in our endeavors, we’d create elaborate and silly actions to accompany the words and found endless entertainment competing over who could perform each poem the fastest, the most dramatic, in the best western accent, etc.
Yes, we were weird.
My first year as a seventh grade teacher I forced my students to memorize the poem How Did You Die? by Edmund Vance. Each time we learned a new verse, the kids had to push their desks to the sides of the room, form a circle, and engage in the same ridiculous acrobatics that my sister and I invented years ago.
It was hilarious. We had so much fun. It’s a cheesy poem, but I love it.
How Did You Die?
Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?
You are beaten to earth?
Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there — that’s disgrace.
The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts,
It’s how did you fight — and why?
And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could,
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl,
or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only how did you die?
What books and poetry helped ignite your love of language or influence your lives? There are so many wonderful things to read that I haven’t yet seen. What literature shaped you into the person and writer you are today?