Nothing to Say

Once upon a time, when I was a high school sophomore, all the students in my English class were required to recite a poem from memory. Each of us was to select a poem, commit it to memory, and on a designated day recite it before the entire class.

Somewhere among my parents’ books I found a clever poem by O. Henry called “Nothing to Say”, and chose it. Having chosen it one might think that I then would have committed it to memory, but perhaps I didn’t manage that quite as well as I should have because, well, it didn’t get committed. At least not completely.

The recitations took place during regular class periods over several days. I managed to delay for a time, but at last the day came when I was called upon to recite. I remember walking to the front of the classroom, turning to face the class, and saying the title: “Nothing to Say”. Then I stopped and stared. There was no fragment of the first line in my head, no hint of how to start, and without the first line no following line could be spoken either. I don’t know how long I stood there, my mind a complete blank, before Mrs. Stotmeister said I could return to my desk and prepare to recite the poem for her after a future class.

As I slouched back to my desk a classmate commented “That would really have been funny if you had said the title like that, paused as if you weren’t going to say anything, then recited the poem.” Yes, I thought, that would really have been funny. Too bad it didn’t work out that way.

Nothing To Say

“You can tell your paper,” the great man said,
“I refused an interview.
I have nothing to say on the question, sir;
Nothing to say to you.”

And then he talked till the sun went down
And the chickens went to roost;
And he seized the collar of the poor young man,
And never his hold he loosed.

And the sun went down and the moon came up,
And he talked till the dawn of day;
Though he said, “On this subject mentioned by you,
I have nothing whatever to say.”

And down the reporter dropped to sleep
And flat on the floor he lay;
And the last he heard was the great man’s words,
“I have nothing at all to say.”

— O. Henry


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