Saturday, March 8, 2014

Remember Your First Read?

I mean a book, poem, or short story that touched you deeply…changed you in some way.

Mine was “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes.

                        The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
                        The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
                        The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
                        And the highwayman came riding---
                        The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door

That first stanza had me riveted. I pored over words I couldn’t read and images I couldn’t understand. My mom read the romantic poem to me when I was five. We were in a tough spot in life, didn’t have many books. In fact, I wasn’t even excited about reading, but my middling interest in books changed, turning into a hot need to know.

Fortunately, my mom had saved a collection of her childhood books and made those bedtime reading. A poetry compendium mixed everything from “Little Jack Horner” to “Humpty Dumpty.” They were fun, but after a tragic tale of sacrificial love, I was done with Jack and the egg.

Thank you, but I’ll take torrid romance with a galleon moon any day of the week.

Before you’re too shocked at my five year old reading content, my mom soon filled me with Disney’s Golden Book collection. Like most little girls, I fell in love with the princess stories. Yes, the romance dye was cast. My passion for historical romance traces back to those “Highwayman” nights, having sprouted a deep connection with books, history, and life.

For all the one-on-one introversion of reading, books really give us profound social bonds.

I saw this when I taught 5th and 6th grade. As a teacher, a poetry unit soon came my way, and believe me, I approached the topic with fear and trembling! Would the students roll their eyes? Or find something so lofty as poetry, dare I hope...fascinating?

On the hunt to make poetry interesting, I ran across Loreena McKennit’s rendition of “The Highwayman” set to music. I snatched the CD for a lesson on onomatopoeia. As the lesson began, some were interested, some were not. A fair number of eyes glazed over, but they listened respectfully.  

Then, I played “The Highwayman” and just like me as a five year old, the whole class (tough boys included) fell in love. You could hear a pin drop when the last note faded. They asked me play the poem over and over again for many days after that lesson. Discussions on poetry blossomed to the tune of “Hey this poetry thing’s pretty good.”

The written word stirs you, changes you, opens your eyes. Now I’d love to hear from you: What was the first written word that touched you?


  1. I remember the first book I read for my own pleasure. I was 16 years old and found Cujo by Stephen King in the library. I started reading it and was hooked on reading ever since.

    1. Hi Mary,
      Stephen King is such a great author. I loved his story, "Shawshank Redemption" which was made into a movie. he really knows how to grab a reader. Thanks for sharing that.

  2. I always loved The Highwayman. I'm currently editing my second historical for digital re-release, a highwayman story (Once Wicked, first out with Dell Books in 2000). My first favorite book was a volume of fairy tales with medieval-style illustrations that we had at home. But I soon graduated to romance. I started sneaking Johanna Lindsey books off my mother's shelves when I was twelve. :)

    1. Hi Sherri,
      So glad to find another fan of The Highwayman. I will be sure to look for your book when it comes out. Twelve seems to be a key year for sneaking romance reads. I read Barbara Cartland romances dug out a box I found at my grandma's house. Those weren't off limits, but my mom had some others that were eye-openers. Thanks for sharing!

  3. The Wind in the Willows for me. "Simply messing about in boats."

    1. Hi Jane,
      The Wind in the Willows...I can't remember the story, but I recall some lovely illustrations. Love the picture with you and the little kid. He looks soft and cute,

  4. Hey, Gina! I guess I commented on the post before it was supposed to be posted, so... it vanished. :) I love Robert Frost's poems, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, and Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, and other poems. I loved The Highwayman also. Love the video. Thanks so much for sharing! :)

  5. Oh I just love that song!! I cannot remember what first I fell in love with regarding books or reading. I did always like poems. I do remember Poe's poems intriguing me to the point of exploring more. :)

  6. No idea, Gina, but it was probably a story about a horse!

  7. I absolutely love that song. So beautiful. The poem is fabulous as well. Thanks for sharing!