Rant Pro Rote by Joe Carthy

And so the mantra goes, 
learning must be deep
Be done with the rote

But we were reared by rote,
And still we carry wonders in our hearts
Treasures never to be stolen

In a rote-less world who will remember?

Recall, the captain of the Hesperus
“the captain brought his little daughter to bear him company
Oh father I see a gleaming light oh say what it might be”

Or brave Horatius holding the bridge ‘gainst barbarian hordes
“O Tiber father Tiber, to who the Romans pray,
A Roman’s life, a Roman’s arms, Take thou in charge this day!”

“Tyger Tyger burning bright, 
In the forests of the night”

Who will remember:
“O Cuckoo! shall I call thee Bird, 
Or but a wandering Voice?”

Or the loyalty of boy blue’s toys
“The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and staunch he stands”

Who will remember when we stayed silent:
“I should have bawled the bastard out, a yellow dog he slew.
But worse, he proved beyond a doubt that – I was yellow too.”

But there was also fun in strange places
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree”

“The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see”
Was the cremation of Sam McGee

But still they question- what use your rotes ?
Ah you had to ask – how sad?

We learned so many things

To woo, when other words fail,
Sweetest smile, elegant eyes
Walk with me a while

Better left to Shakespeare
“So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”

To comfort, when there are no words
“best portion of a good man’s life, 
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts 
Of kindness and of love.”

To reflect, when they 
“flash upon the inward eye and my heart with pleasures fills and dances with the daffodils”

To know all will not last
“But past is all his fame. The very spot
Where many a time he triumph’d is forgot”

And what, would they have us learn instead
Compute, yea, compute!
Oh, what skills, Yeats foresaw it,
 all the better to “fumble in a greasy till 
And add the halfpence to the pence”

But no, 
we didn’t learn by rote
We learned them off by heart
And there they remain
Treasures ne’er to depart

Horatius lived a long life, hailed as a Roman hero, 
Sadly, not so for the captain and his daughter!

(Inspired by ‘Exploring English 3’ – edited by Augustine Martin.)

Joe Carthy

Professor Joe Carthy is the Dean of Science at UCD and the College of Science Principal and is a former director and former chair of Camara, a not-for-profit organisation which refurbishes and sends computers from Ireland to schools and other educational institutions in Africa, Ireland and the Caribbean.
He is a board member of CyberSafeIreland, a charity to empower children, parents and teachers to navigate the online world in a safe way. Professor Carthy also provides academic leadership for UCD in the Community, which supports and promotes civic engagement across the UCD community.   http://www.ucd.ie/ucdinthecommunity/