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Peter Hitchens

Questioner: I teach five-year-olds and we’ve been doing poetry — they love writing it. But making them sit down and recite poems would just be a waste of their time and a waste of my time.

Peter Hitchens: Well, I’ll recite you one a teacher taught me some 40 years ago:

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

[Applause] And I’m very pleased that my head is full of things like that, and also lots of hymns, which I also remember — and I feel very sorry for anybody who hasn’t had the chance to learn them. And I think it is a great condemnation of our school system that so few people, and particularly only those whose parents are rich, can actually afford to have their children taught things like that, and have their minds furnished with beauty for the remainder of their lives.

And to pour scorn on it, and to say that it is unimportant, is to declare yourself a spiritual desert. Of course people need these things; and what’s more, they’re a profound part of being British. If you don’t know the literature and the poetry and the music of your own country, then you aren’t really fully conversant with its history and its character.

You’ve lost touch with what your ancestors knew, and you won’t be able to pass it on to your own children and grandchildren.

Of course these things should be taught. I wish our government actually had the power and the policies to make it happen. I really do think it’d be a good thing. I also think that people, particularly teachers, should not say these things don’t matter; they matter immensely.


Peter Hitchens, appearing on BBC’s Question Time on June 14th, 2012.

Continue by memorizing for yourself the Housman poem, “Those Blue Remembered Hills”. Then take a look at Peter debating his brother Christopher — first on Nietzsche then on the motion “Can Civilization Survive without God?”. Watch Peter’s epic testimony here. Read the great David McCullough answer Why History?.