The Art of Writing

I Don’t Remember

This is a lovely exercise to help students use memories in poems in a controlled but powerful way.

Start by reading these two poems with the students. I Cannot Remember My Mother is by Tagore, the national poet of Bangladesh. He lost his mother when he was three. Rukiya Khatun came to England from Bangladesh when she was six. She loved to read Tagore in Bengali, and when she was sixteen wrote the beautiful poem My Mother Country in English. Both poems are ironic: they show us how very important are the things we ‘don’t remember’.

I Cannot Remember My Mother

I cannot remember my mother
only sometimes in the midst of my play
a tune seems to hover over my playthings,
the tune of some song that she used to
hum while rocking my cradle.

I cannot remember my mother
but when in the early autumn morning
the smell of the shiuli flowers floats in the air
the scent of the morning service in the temple
comes to me as the scent of my mother.

I cannot remember my mother
only when from my bedroom window I send
my eyes into the blue of the distant sky,
I feel that the stillness of
my mother’s gaze on my face
has spread all over the sky.

By Rabindranath Tagore from Sishu Bholanath

মনে পড়া

মাকে আমার পড়ে না মনে।
শুধু কখন খেলতে গিয়ে
হঠাৎ অকারণে
একটা কী সুর গুনগুনিয়ে
কানে আমার বাজে,
মায়ের কথা মিলায় যেন
আমার খেলার মাঝে।
মা বুঝি গান গাইত, আমার
দোলনা ঠেলে ঠেলে;
মা গিয়েছে, যেতে যেতে
গানটি গেছে ফেলে।
মাকে আমার পড়ে না মনে।
শুধু যখন আশ্বিনেতে
ভোরে শিউলিবনে
শিশির-ভেজা হাওয়া বেয়ে
ফুলের গন্ধ আসে,
তখন কেন মায়ের কথা
আমার মনে ভাসে?
কবে বুঝি আনত মা সেই
ফুলের সাজি বয়ে,
পুজোর গন্ধ আসে যে তাই
মায়ের গন্ধ হয়ে।
মাকে আমার পড়ে না মনে।
শুধু যখন বসি গিয়ে
শোবার ঘরের কোণে;
জানলা থেকে তাকাই দূরে
নীল আকাশের দিকে
মনে হয়, মা আমার পানে
চাইছে অনিমিখে।
কোলের ‘পরে ধরে কবে
দেখত আমায় চেয়ে,
সেই চাউনি রেখে গেছে
সারা আকাশ ছেয়ে।

৯ আশ্বিন, ১৩২৮

My Mother Country

I don’t remember her
in the summer,
lagoon water sizzling,
the kingfisher leaping,
or even the sweet honey mangoes,
they tell me I used to love.
I don’t remember
her comforting garment,
her saps of date trees,
providing the meagre earrings,
for those farmers
out there
in the gulf
under the calidity of the sun,
or the mosquitoes,
droning in the monsoon,
or the tipa tapa of the rain,
on the tin roofs,
dripping on the window,
I think.

Rukiya Khatun 17

Now encourage your students to write their own version.

I don’t remember is a magical way to frame a poem. It gives it irony and dramatic tension at once, while also plunging us into the deep past.

  • Ask the students to think of an early memory: a person or place, or person-and-place you lost in childhood.
    Grandparents perhaps – or just a holiday house you stopped visiting, or another loss.
    Think about the sounds, smells and tastes of the that place.
    Make sure all you memories are concrete – no abstract nouns wanted in here.
  • Now try a poemI don’t remember my grandmother
    Just the scent ….I don’t remember that house
    Just the taste of …..I don’t remember that country
    Not even the sound of ….Run through your five senses –
    what are the smells,sounds,touches,tastes and sights you associate with that loss.
    What colour?
    What flower?
    What sky?

Ftoun came out of Syria when she was 10 years old. She wrote this straight into English when she had been in England for just over a year.

The Doves of Damascus

I lost my country and everything I had before.
and now
I cannot remember for sure
the soft of the snow in my country,
I cannot remember
the feel of the damp air in summer.
Sometimes I think I remember
the smell of jasmine
as I walked down the street.
And sometimes autumn
with its orange and scarlet leaves
Flying in the high Damascus sky.
And I am sure I remember
my grandmother’s roof-garden,
its vines, its sweet red grapes,
The mint she grew in crates for tea.
I remember the birds, the doves
of Damascus. I remember
how they scattered. I remember

Trying to catch them.

Ftoun Abou Kerech (14)