The Old Reading Class
by Will Carleton
from Rhymes of our Planet 1895



I cannot tell you, Genevieve, how oft it 
comes to me 
That rather young old reading-class, in
District Number Three!
Those callow elocutionists who stood so
straight in line,
And charged at standard literature, with
varying design.
We did not spare the energy in which
our words were clad;
We held the meaning of the text in all
the light we had;
But still, I fear the authors of the lines
we read so free
Would scarce have recognized their work,
in District Number Three!

Outside, the snow was smooth and clean 
the winter's thick-laid dust;
The storm it made the windows speak,
at every sudden gust.
Bright sleigh-bells sung us pleasant songs,
when travellers would pass;
The maple trees along the road stood
shivering in their class.
Beyond, the white-browed cottages were
nestling cold and dumb,
And far away, the mighty world seemed
beckoning us to come
The wondrous world, of which we conned
what had been and might be
In that old  fashioned reading class of
District Number Three!

We lent a hand to History - its altars,
spires, and flames,
And uniformly mispronounced the most
important names;
We wandered through Biography, and
gave our fancy play,
And with some subjects fell in love 
"good only for one day";
In Romance and Philosophy we settled
many a point,
And made what poems we assailed to
creak at every joint.
And many writers that we love, you
with me must agree,
Were first time introduced to us, 
in District Number Three.




You recollect Susanna Smith-
the teacher's sore distress
Who never stopped at any point: a sort
of day express?
And timid young Sylvester Jones, 
of inconsistent sight,
Who stumbled on the easy words, and
read the hard ones right?
And Jenny Green, whose doleful voice
was mostly clothed in black?
And Samuel Hicks, whose tones induced
the plastering all to crack?
And Andrew Tubbs, whose cruel mouths
were quite a show to see?
Alas! we could not find them, now, in
District Number Three!

And Jasper Jenckes, whose tears would
flow, at each pathetic word
(He's in the prize-fight business, now, and
hits'em hard, I've heard);
And Bennie Bayne, whose every tone he
murmured as in fear;
(His tongue is not so timid, now; he is
an auctioneer)
And Lanty Wood, whose voice was just
endeavoring hard to change,
And leaped from hoarse to fiercely shrill,
with most surprising range;
Also his sister 'Liza Ann, so full of
prudish glee;
Ah, they are now in higher schools than
District Number Three!

So back these various voices come, though
long the years have grown,
And seem uncommonly distinct, through
Memory's telephone;
And some are full of melody, and bring
a sense of cheer,
And some can smite the rock of time,
and summon forth a tear;
But one sweet voice comes back to me,
whenever sad I grieve,
And sings a song: and that is yours-O
peerless Genevieve!
It brightens up the olden times, and
throws a smile at me
A silver star among the clouds of 
District Number Three!



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