Love of literature, poetry comforts and relaxes

It is a Sunday afternoon. I am sitting at my desk with a blank sheet of paper in front of me. And, yes, I have been thinking of a weekly column. Sometimes the thought of subject matter surrounds me in an almost consuming feeling. I would wager that most people have many thoughts swimming around in their brains to keep them constantly busy should they be required to put them down on paper for all to share. But I suppose that most of our thoughts pass on through our gray matter, neglected, forgotten.

Perhaps I shouldn’t admit it but for several years every night when I turn out the light, I have two or three bits of verse, or familiar thoughts, which I recite to myself, and soon I l am asleep. If there is significance to remembering these particular thoughts, usually in the form of verse, I don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly personal about them.

One of them is a portion of Shakespeare’s Macbeth’s soliloquy from “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Act V, Scene V: “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage. And there is no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I have a couple more favorites which I sometimes recite to myself, but Hamlet usually does the trick. Sometimes l quote “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, but "Hamlet" usually works, and soon I am asleep.

Robert McGowan

Robert McGowan

I don’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned during the several years of writing this weekly column that I had a double major in college. One major in English literature and the other major in biological sciences. I had wonderful teachers in both subjects, and I fell in love with Henry David Thoreau and the Transcendentalists, but biology professor Oxley captured my imagination.

After being discharged from the Army at the close of WWII, I lacked about eight hours finishing my degree. Following graduation, I chose biology for graduate work and have never regretted it. Ellen and I lived in the Veteran’s Village, and Robert was born in the Vanderbilt Hospital. Beth, our daughter, was born in Humboldt when I was teaching at Memphis State College, following a year as the first Tennessee State Park naturalist.

Our next move was the purchase of a G.I. Bill home. Our notes were $58 per month, which included mortgage, taxes, and insurance. Gasoline was about 20 cents a gallon. I think I was making a bit more than $300 a month.

Yes, there has been a “lot of water under the bridge” since then.

I have never before written such a personal column. Please forgive. But all of us have our personal column, our little on-goings which make us who we are.

The next question, of course, is, “Who are we?”

Just as soon as I discover the answer to that question, I’ll let you know.

You do the same — please!

Robert McGowan is a Bartlett resident and former professor of biology at the University of Memphis. Contact him at (901) 828-6039 or