It’s the time for feeling peaceful, sharing joy and being merry; it’s also time for exercise: not of the body perhaps, but of the mind.
Trivial Pursuit used to be very fashionable; Scrabble keeps the cogs oiled, but old poems and rhymes that jog the cogs have a place too.
Whichever way your mind works, the mnemonic that fits the season is one that comes from the far north: its about wood and logs and burning those valuable resources we now cherish so much and burn less frequently. In Scotland, where we still burn logs in woodstoves and open hearths to celebrate solstice and Yule – Christmas and Hanukkah – wherever it is cold enough to warrant a blazing fire, this poem is not only something to remember the season by, but to remember the value of each yule log that we consume. Precious resource, indeed, but what joy it brings.
Wood for the Season: log burning rhyme
Beechwood fires burn bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year;
Store your beech for Christmastide
With new-cut holly laid beside;
Chestnut’s only good, they say,
If for years ’tis stored away;
Make a fire of the elder tree,
A death within the house you’ll see
But ash green or ash oldBirch and fir logs burn too fast
Is fit for a Queen with a crown of gold.
Blaze too bright and do not last;
Flames from larch will shoot up high,
Dangerously the sparks will fly;
It is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread;
Elm-wood burns like churchyard mould,
E’en the very flames are cold;
But ash wood green and ash wood brown
Are fit for a Queen with a golden crown.
Oaken logs, if dry and old,
Keep away the winter’s cold;
Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke;
Apple wood will scent the room,
With an incense like perfume.
Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom;
But ash green or ash dry
For a Queen to warm her slippers by.
According to my grandfather, a childlike lovable old churchman who never wished to stop learning, the Victorians were great ones for mnemonics: for the wind and compass directions in clockwise order:
Never Eat Shredded Wheat
to remembering which side of the ship you were on on an ocean voyage:
The ship’s left port
or, more obscure,
Port wine should be left alone when it is red
This suggests port (left) red, so starboard (right) green. However, my grandfather also liked an occasional glass of port himself and his explanation was that as after dinner port is always traditionally passed around the table to the left; the “port” light is always red, just as port wine is always red.
His many interests included classical languages, the rivers of the world, the seven hills of Rome and how to remember them. While I doubt that too many reading this will have a need for mnemonics for such trivia, you never know; it might come in handy one day.
Firstly, the World’s greatest/longest Rivers:
The Great Lakes from West to East:
Nile (Africa) – 4,145 miles
Amazon (South America) – 4,050 miles
Mississippi-Missouri (USA) – 3,760 miles
Irtysh (Russia) – 3,200 miles
Yangtse (China) – 3,100 miles
Amur (Asia) – 2,900 miles
Congo (Africa) – 2,718 miles
Huang-Ho or Yellow (China) – 2,700 miles
Sam’s Horse Must Eat Oats
The Seven Hills of Rome:
Can Queen Victoria Eat Cold Apple Pie?
To remember the seven hills of Rome
and for those of us who might have to look that one up: they are:
the Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, Aventine, and the Palatine hills.
Roman numerals, too, in ascending order, for the classics scholar with a bad memory:
Lucky Cows Drink Milk
L = 50, C = 100, D = 500 and M = 1000.
And while on number, he had a mnemonic to help him remember the exact decimal value of Pi to the twentieth place! Counting the number of letters in each word of the sentence in order gives the value of Pi = 3.141592653 etc.
Sir, I send a rhyme excelling
In sacred truth and rigid spelling
Numerical sprites elucidate
For me the lexicon’s dull weight.
I prefer the simpler version of Pi to a mere seven places:
May I have a large container of coffee?
His wide reading brought him into much more esoteric branches of learning, which I won’t elaborate on – such things as Pythagorean theory, [a very non-pc version: ‘The Squaw on the Hippopotamus is equal to the sum of the Squaws on the other two Hides’] Lord Nelson’s injuries(!), remembering the names of world oceans and continents, and the date of the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight.
Richard of York Gave Battle In Vain
which my mother (his daughter) abbreviated to the acronym: ROYGBIV.
Henry the Eighth’s six wives:
‘Divorced, beheaded, died;
Divorced, beheaded, survived.’
They were: Catherine of Aragon, Ann Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard and Katherine Parr.
His greatest mnemonic was, for me, the poem of the succession of the Kings and Queens of England from William the Conqueror, 1066. Not the Scots, or Kings of Picts, mind you; something I wished for at the time and tried in later life to create a mnemonic for and failed miserably. [It is quite difficult to place King Dubh, Kings Aedh, Custantin, Fergus and King Nechtan into a rhyme!]
This one is still popular and while you have to remember another rhyme to insert each monarch into his/her houses, (Plantaganet, etc.), it has a ring to it:
Kings and Queens of England from 1066[sometimes:
Willy, Willy, Harry, Stee,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry Three;
One, two, three Neds, Richard Two,
Harries Four Five Six, then who?
Edwards Four Five, Richard Three,
Two Harries, Edward and Bloody Mairee;
Elizabeth the Virgin Queen
Two Jameses with Charlies in between
Mary, Bessie, James ye ken,
Then Charlie, Charlie, James again)
William and Mary, Anna Gloria
Four Georges, William and Victoria
Edward Seven next, and then
Came George the Fifth in nineteen ten
Ned the Eighth soon abdicated
Then George the Sixth was coronated
After which Elizabeth
And that’s all folks until her death.
The Royal Houses to which those monarchs belonged:
No Plan Like Yours
To Study HISTORY Wisely
(Norman (1066-), Plantaganet (1154-), Lancaster (1399-), York (1461), Tudor (1485-), Stuart (1603-), Hanover (1714-1901), Windsor (1901/1917-present))
Like Winston Churchill, whom he admired although a younger man, he could recite by heart: Greenleaf Whittier’s Ballad of Barbara Fritchie, a stirring epic from the American Civil War.
Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,
The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.
It goes on for another thirty verses, but its most poignant couplet tells of an order from Stonewall Jackson himself:
‘Who touches a hair of thon gray head
Dies like a dog. March on,’ he said.
It is a fact that Winston Churchill, while visiting Frederick, Maryland in 1943, held up his own welcome party while he stood in front of the house where she is said to have waved the Union flag in Stonewall Jackson’s face; and recited the poem from beginning to end. It is not reported whether his hosts were particularly pleased by this recitation; but my grandfather was!
Of course the old minister would recite from every verse of ‘Remember, Remember the Fifth of November’, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Wreck of the Hesperus and he was particularly fond of ‘Peter, Andrew, James and John, Hold the Horse while I get on’ -a mnemonic for the first four of the 12 disciples.
With such a mentor, is it any wonder that my education was, to say the least, eclectic?
I don’t have to repeat the mnemonic for the months of the year because I think that is one rhyme which has filtered down through oral tradition into the consciousness of now. [Unless someone really doesn’t know and writes me a comment/request to that effect!]
However I think my grandfather would have loved to hear a hurricane rhyme which I learned in the Bahamas in the early ‘sixties: in these times of changing world climate and strange seasons, it is reassuring to find the hurricane season stays (roughly) the same…
‘June, too soon;
July, stand by;
August come it must;
October, all over.’
My grandfather had ways of remembering the Arabic names of stars and constellations, too, but I think we’ve covered enough ground for one festive blog. Those gems will have to wait for another time.