January 26, 2013

Joseph Brodsky "used to appall his students by requiring them to memorize something like a thousand lines each semester."

"He felt he was preparing them for the future; they might need such verses later in life. His own biography provided a stirring example of the virtues of mental husbandry. He’d been grateful for every scrap of poetry he had in his head during his enforced exile in the Arctic, banished there by a Soviet government that did not know what to do with his genius and that, in a symbolic embrace of a national policy of brain drain, expelled him from the country in 1972."

From "Why We Should Memorize," by Brad Leithauser.

(In 1972, Brodsky became the poet in residence at the University of Michigan. I was a student there at the time and remember a grand assembly with Brodsky received as a great hero.)

94 comments:

wyo sis said...

We probably have at least that in our heads from son lyrics alone. It's not difficult to memorize what we want to memorize.

wyo sis said...

son=song

mccullough said...

Too bad Brodsky's poetry pretty much sucks. It's not enough to suffer and memorize. Unfair though it may be.

leslyn said...

That kind of memorization must be appalling in bachelor of arts types (of which I was one). It's nothing to medical, science, and religion majors. And good stage actors.

Which is why I never was one of those amazing folks. My rote memorization skill is appalling. That's the only thing I'm appalled by.

I wish I were better at it. God knows I try.

TerriW said...

My kids occasionally complain about all the poetry and whatnot I make them memorize until the day at the family reunion when they got to be the center of attention in front of all the aunts and uncles and grandparents, etc, who appeared genuinely thrilled to hear them recite them all.

Oh, and they got paid 50 cents per poem.

They cleaned up. Now they're on board.

Balfegor said...

It's nice to have a little store of poetry in one's head for idle moments. I have maybe 10 or so poems that I enjoyed enough to memorise, and fragments of a couple more (mostly Tennyson, as a lot of his poems are long).

But it's true that smartphones make it a lot easier to enjoy the benefits of memorisation without ever putting in any effort. The other day, I was struggling to remember the last bit of Tennyson's "The Passing of Arthur" -- specifically, the bit that goes:

Then from the dawn it seemed there came, but faint
As from beyond the limit of the world,
Like the last echo born of a great cry,
Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice
Around a king returning from his wars
.

Which makes me choke up a bit because I am a sap for mawkish stuff like that. Anyhow, I couldn't remember the entire bit, so I just pulled it up to read on the subway.

The rewards to memorising poetry are also much lower now -- when there are allusions and quotations sprinkled into modern prose, they're more likely to come from pop songs or movies, certainly not from our modern poets, who mostly produce unmusical, unmemorable garbage.

Palladian said...

I have many poems memorized. I once decided to memorize all of Shakespeare's sonnets to cope with boredom in junior high school.

St. George said...

A year ago I went into the woods each day and worked on memorizing Hamlet's famous soliloquy, Portia's 'mercy' speech, Macbeth's final speech, Invictus, and, best of all, Shakespeare's Sonnet 29...Line 10 explodes and the rest of the poem bursts forth. A masterpiece.

Would your fardels bear this?

Balfegor said...

Re: leslyn:

I wish I were better at it. God knows I try.

Different people memorise in different ways. I've found that I memorise better not by reading but by listening. So if I want to memorise something, I make a recording of it and just play it until I feel comfortable. That's how I studied for my bar exam. And how I memorised my lines for plays and stuff back when I was a student.

If you haven't tried it, you might find that works for you too.

St. George said...

#29

When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least.
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

deborah said...

I once memorized and recited Ode on a Grecian Urn for a humanities class.

deborah said...

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds

john said...

I have many poems memorized.

Fortunately, all are only 5 lines long.

Unfortunately, they all begin with "There once was ..."

YoungHegelian said...

Before ready availability of books, libraries, and now electronic access every education was thought incomplete without the memorization of HUGE amounts of texts. It was common to know someone who had committed the entire New Testament to memory, and you were a dullard if you couldn't recite number of poems and stories from memory.

A good introduction to Renaissance mnemotechnics embedded in an interesting history of exploration can be found in The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan Spence or if you want hard core historical detail go for Frances Yates' Art of Memory.

Palladian said...

I memorized Eliot's "The Waste Land" to recite in a class in high school and the teacher didn't allow me to continue after "The Burial of the Dead" because she said it was too long.

Palladian said...

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds


I've even recently learned how to recite that one in the theorized OP (original pronunciation).

Balfegor said...

Re: St. George:

Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,

I like Eliot's "Ash Wednesday," which I assume is borrowing that line --

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign
?

Irene said...

Most of the lessons at my Lithuanian Saturday school focused on memorizing poetry.

In high school, our junior-year English teacher required us to recite the prologue of Canterbury Tales from memory, in Middle English. It's still in my head.

mccullough said...

He, the young man carbuncular, arrives

Balfegor said...

Re: John --

There are lots of short poems that are great. One of my favourites --

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood,
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts should
Have gathered them and will do never again
.

Or --

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough
.

Michael K said...

Memory is very important in medicine, whereas mathematical reasoning is more important in engineering.

I memorized some poems because I liked them but I also had an English professor in college who made us memorize large swaths of poetry and drama.

His exams would be lines from the poem or the play and we had to know the play, or poem, and explain the quoted line. I'll bet English majors no longer have to do that. I got an F on a midterm exam because I did not recognize a line from Wordsworth's Lucy poems.

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.


Those lines were the exam. That was 50 years ago.

Palladian said...

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds


Let meh nuht to the mary-ahj of truh moindes
Ahdmit im-peyd-ee-munts. Luhv is nuht luhv
which owl-terz when it owl-ter-ess-ian foynds...

TerriW said...

Before ready availability of books, libraries, and now electronic access every education was thought incomplete without the memorization of HUGE amounts of texts.

My son doesn't read yet, so he more or less still lives in a pre-literate culture. (Okay, maybe that's a stretch.) Nonetheless, I'm always amazed on how well and how quickly he memorizes chunks of text. And not just "his" assigned memorization that he specifically works on, but just soaking up what's in the air.

For instance, when his sister was working on Robert Frost's "Time to Talk," I kept overhearing him chanting "Blade end up and five feet tall!" Etc.

Paddy O said...

Memorization is one of my weakest academic skills. I blame technology.

My brain really is much, much more like a card catalog. I have a great ability to integrate a wide variety of sources and approaches. But, I don't remember specific quotes. I'm not even good at Bible memorization. But I know the stories, and I know arguments and I can find it and pull it together when needed.

Memorization is somewhat limiting, as you are stuck with a set pool. Being able to catalog and then refer to the main source is another kind of skill. The real brilliant folks can do both, but there are very, very few of them.

Meanwhile, this is what came to mind when I first read this post. To Joe Brodsky!

TerriW said...

Those lines were the exam. That was 50 years ago.

And now you've never forgotten them. Heh.

phx said...

I've had a favorite quote from Brodsky for years. It goes,

"One’s task consist first of all in mastering a life that is one’s own, not imposed or prescribed from without no matter how noble its appearance may be. For each of us is issued but one life, and we know full well how it all ends. It would be regrettable to squander this one chance on someone else’s appearance, someone else’s experience, on a tautology - regrettable all the more because the heralds of historical necessity, at whose urging a man may be prepared to agree to this tautology, will not go to the grave with him, or give him so much as a thank-you."

YoungHegelian said...

@Palladian,

Did you buy the recording by the Hilliard Ensemble where they sang William Byrd's stuff in original pronunciation?

I asked Paul Hillier why they never did another recording like that and he said that it drove the singers crazy.

edutcher said...

Memorization is less important than knowing the principles so, if you need something specific, you know where to look.

harrogate said...

When I see a couple of kids
And guess he’s fucking her and she’s
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives—
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
And thought, That’ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds. And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

---"High Windows," Phillip Larkin

James said...

I learned to memorize back in the days when the penalty was six strokes of a cane across our palms, backs or anything the teacher could hit. Starting at 3 years 9 months we were required to memorize multiplication tables and a host of obscure facts. By the age of ten we had memorized the entire Students' Companion in preparation for a national exam for entry into the best high schools.

The pressure one felt at 10 or 11 to score high enough on the exams to go to a prestigious high school was enormous.

TerriW said...

My (admittedly limited) understanding of the brain and thinking is that information that is stored in long term memory is "counted" differently in the infamous Rule of 7, the idea that there's only so much information that you can manipulate at one time in your brain's version of RAM.

The modern notion that it's okay for students to not memorize/know facts because they can always Google it is a huge impediment to deeper understanding and thinking on a given subject. (And completely hoses people in math/engineering. Don't even get me started.)

Filling their heads with information and facts gives them something to think critically *about.*

deborah said...

Pall, once in middle school my female teacher recited something in Middle English, or somesuch, and I had a vision/mind picture of an actual young maid in a bonnet.

Now since we know you can post an mp3, or whatever, please post one in OP.

I myself have tried very hard, with not much success, to recite Gunga Din with a cockney accent:) Reminds me of the time my son asked me to desist from doing Mad-eye Moody in a Scottish brogue (Harry Potter).

Finally, do me a solid and compose a limerick about Kandahar, gashes, and corks.

harrogate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
harrogate said...

In the spirit of the old rhetorical maxim, "Know thy audience," I humbly present this readership with The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Why, I bet you can even buy it through the famed Amazon portal on this very website.

You're all welcome.

Balfegor said...

Re: harrogate --

I love that poem, with its progression from the grubby and crude to the lyrical, the image of each generation sliding down, down, down into a "paradise" of sexual license, and the final image of the high windows through which we see something immense and incomprehensible high above us.

Alex said...

Funny I have a 1000 song lyrics memorized pretty much, but that's a more pleasant process then what this guy wanted.

Fandor said...

Joseph Brodsky wrote an analysis of "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" which changed my high school understanding of that easily recited poem, greatly. He also admired and wrote about Hardy's poetry.

Coketown said...

Remember when Rose gave Dorothy the maple syrup spigot for Christmas? And she's all, "this will come in a lot handier than those earrings...the next time I'm lost in a forest with a stack of pancakes. "

That's what this reminds me of. "The next time your government exiles you to Siberia you'll wish you had a catalogue of poems memorized!" Not terribly practical.

But it might be practical. I'll try memorizing a couple poems today and see if it comes in handy this week.

madAsHell said...

just soaking up what's in the air.

"Where did you learn to talk like that?!?"
"Well....I learned it from you Dad."

bpm4532 said...

It's better to actually know something than to make up something that sounds good at the moment.

Basta! said...

We had to memorize poetry in high school; I remember Shakespeare and Milton. But I didn't like it.

After I graduated, I decided to learn Russian, specifically to read Russian poetry, and I heard that memorization of reams of poetry is required for one to be counted as "kul'turny" (not vulgar). So I did it. It turned out to be a mind-saver when I was stuck somewhere, say on the subway in a tunnel. I don't like to carry anything, so, without being able to recite poems in my mind, I'd have been left glassy-eyed, or ogling my fellow passengers, or worrying about being late. But, as Balfegor pointed out, with modern technology we no longer have to bear our means of self-distraction within us.

I saw Brodsky recite once, it was an incantation, not a recital, he was on fire. I'm with mccullough, though, in my personal appreciation of Brodsky's poetry, it's meh. But educated Russians who pay attention to poetry do consider him one of the best poets of the 20th century. I would recommend his essays, especially his first collection, called Less Than One. He sometimes has this prophet-down-from-the-mountain tone that can be grating, but his take is interesting.

Mitchell the Bat said...

Frank Zappa memorized lots of stuff.

Basta! said...

If you ask these same Russians who like Brodsky who is the best Russian poet EVAH, they'll to a person say Osip Mandel'shtam. I do know some of his stuff by heart. Here's a translation of one of them:

For the resounding valor of the coming ages,
For that exalted tribe
I gave up my cup at the feast of my fathers
and my merriment, and my honor.

This wolfhound-age leaps on my shoulders
But I am no wolf by blood.
You'd do better to shove me, like a cap, up the sleeve
Of the warm fur-coat of Siberian steppes

So as not to see the coward, the sticky gristle,
The bloody bones in the wheel;
So that little blue foxes might shine for me
All night in their primeval beauty.

Lead me off into the night, to where the Yenisei flows
And the pine tree touches the star.
Because I am no wolf by blood
And only my equal can kill me.

Mitchell the Bat said...

Aren't they big on memorizing stuff at the madrasas?

gadfly said...

Memorization my ass! When we get older, even the memories of when we memorized overnight for exams are no longer clearly defined.

There is the old saw about the senior citizen visiting with his minister:

“How’ve you been?” asked the minister.

“Not so great,” the man sighed. “I find that lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the hereafter.”

“Really?” said the minister, somewhat concerned. “Tell me about it.”

“Well,” the man replied, “every time I walk into a room, I turn around and wonder what I came in here after.”


Perhaps one day, Brodsky will understand life a little better.

Mitchell the Bat said...

The object, I'm pretty sure, is to memorize so much stuff that you can create tons of output, but you can't possibly remember the difference between what you've memorized, and what you've created yourself from scratch, so you get to take all the credit, if you've got an assertive enough personality.

But then again, Ralph Waldo Emerson said that our best ideas come from others.

Was he a poet?

I can't recall.

rhhardin said...

The notions of plain reason have been so obscured nowadays that the first thing third-form teachers do when instructing their pupils, young poets whose lips are still moist with their mothers' milk, how to write Latin verse, is reveal to them through practice the name of Alfred de Musset. Well, I ask you! So fourth-form teachers in their classes set two bloody episodes for translation into Greek verse. The first is the repulsive simile of the pelican. The second being the dreadful catastrophe that befell a labourer. What is the use of contemplating evil? Is it not in the minority? Why weigh down a schoolchild's head with questions which, for want of being understood, caused men like Pascal and Byron to lose theirs? A pupil told me that his fifth-form teacher had given his class, day after day, these two cadavers to translate into Hebrew verse. These plagues of animal and human nature made him ill for a month, which he spent in the infirmary. As we know each other, he got his mother to call for me. He told me, somewhat naively, that his nights were troubled by recurrent dreams. He thought he saw an army of pelicans that swooped upon his chest and ripped it out of him. Then they flew off towards a thatched cottage in flames. They were devouring the labourer's wife and children. His body charred by burns, the labourer would come out of the house and engage in a frightful struggle with the pelicans. They would all rush headlong into the cottage, which would collapse in ruins. From the heaped mass of rubble--this never failed--he would see his fifth-form teacher emerge, holding in one hand his heart, in the other a sheet of paper on which could be deciphered, in lines of brimstone, the passages about the pelican and the labourer, just as Musset himself composed them. It was not easy at first sight to diagnose his type of illness. I enjoined him to be sure to stay silent and to talk about it to no one, especially not to his fifth-form teacher. I advised his mother to keep him home with her for a few days, assuring her that this would pass. Indeed, I took pains to visit him for a few hours each day, and it passed off.

- Lautreamont

Synova said...

My mom has said that (defended) teaching sunday school students the various "rote" recitations like the Lord's Prayer and Nicene Creed and such things (as well as some Bible Verses) because in the worst situation, such as being a POW in Veitnam, when a person might need the strength and comfort, they may not have a Bible. Of course boring non-scripture like the Nicene Creed (or similar) doesn't go with the touchy-feely type modern Christian worship and people complain that the kids don't understand what they are memorizing... but that's not the point. That they understand it *now* isn't the point.

And while the US may provide prisoners of war with their Holy Books, that's not a usual sort of thing.

Shana said...

Lars Porsena of Clusium, by the Nine Gods he swore That the great house of Tarquin should suffer wrong no more. By the Nine Gods he swore it, and named a trysting day, And bade his messengers ride forth, East and West and South and North, To summon his array.
...

Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate: "To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late; And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods,

And for the tender mother who dandled him to rest, And for the wife who nurses his baby at her breast, And for the holy maidens who feed the eternal flame, To save them from false Sextus, that wrought the deed of shame?

Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul, with all the speed ye may! I, with two more to help me, will hold the foe in play. In yon strait path, a thousand may well be stopped by three: Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?'


All young boys should memorize at least a few Horatius at the Bridge verses.

deborah said...

Recently I had occasion to look up the exact wording of a phrase from The Emperor of Ice-Cream, a poem I had loved as a teen, but thought I had outgrown. While looking, I found a post about possible influences on Stevens and possible interpretations. That night as I lay in bed turning the poem over and over in my head, it was like jewel with many facets. A koan, even..the 'let be be' hit me over the head on an existential level that I'd never considered before.

deborah said...

And then he went on to write Malador.

deborah said...

Synova, that's an excellent reason. One of my son's Sunday school teachers said a good reason to attend Sunday school was because there are so many Biblical references in literature.

AEH said...

I had to memorize all of Luther's Catechism and many, many Bible verses as a youth. I then took a memory break. I now am memorizing concerti. It is a good skill to cultivate.

AEH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lydia said...

Another memorable Brodsky quote:

“You know in the end, none of it matters, what happens to you in your life. Not suffering. Not happiness or unhappiness. Not illness. Not prison. Nothing.”

Palladian said...

Now since we know you can post an mp3, or whatever, please post one in OP.

OK, Deb, you asked for it. Here's a humble attempt I just did on my phone, in one take, without having reviewed the OP rules for a long while.

William said...

I have an anthology called The Best Loved Verse of the English Language. It has many poems worth memorizing, but I can't remember where I put it.

Balfegor said...

Re: Palladian

Wonderful! That historical pronunciation sounds a bit Northern to me.

Palladian said...

Wonderful! That historical pronunciation sounds a bit Northern to me.

Thanks Balfegor. It sounds Northern to my ear too. I recall that there are some theories about its relationship to various modern English accents.

I should add the disclaimer that there are people who do it much better than I do, so if you're really interested I suggest looking elsewhere for better examples.

Fandor said...

Synova, Interesting point that you made about kids in Sunday School memorizing Bible verses. I teach Sunday School and I asked my 5th and 6th grade students to try to memorize the 23rd psalm. They seemed ok with the plan, but later the director of the school told me to not ask that of them...one kid complained that it was too hard, and the director did not want the kids "uncomfortable".

Alex said...

Lydia - those words are the utterances of a suffering man. Truly happy people never say that it's meaningless.

Chip Ahoy said...

There are several parlor tricks that make memorization simple, for instance, creating a ridiculous story linking items on a list.
Another one is to mentally place objects in a familiar room or house then mentally tour the room or house.

Once I impressed somebody unfairly, because it's a trick. And they forever thereafter attributed greater mental prowess than I ever possessed.

Upon meeting her, and just talking and playing, I suggested she make a list of random items to recall for her, a game, say twenty-five or so. The method works as well on 1,000 as it does 10, and when she said, "Okay, I'm game" and generated her list, which was not easy for her because she's not all that imaginative, I said, "just for the heck of it double it." Distressed with the idea of coming up with double her list of girl things, she was even more intrigued that this guy (me) would suggest such a stupid thing, so she did.

We departed.

Each day I reviewed her list. It was a long ridiculous story, you can probably imagine by now an insane story that has no place in the real world, one so ridiculous and outlandish its visual elements are easily recalled, nonetheless I recalled the ridiculous story to my self everyday to reinforce its importance.

Several days later, more than a week, I saw her again and I was eager to abandon the project. "You forgot to mention your list. Do you still have that?" She reached for her purse, and I matched her list. Thereafter I was genius. And if I said I recalled something that was IT. But it was totally false and for that I apologize. Wherever you are out there, I'm sorry for that.

Craig Howard said...

There's a lot of good in "rote" memorization. We learn to speak, for example, by memorizing what our parents and our elder siblings say.

Memorizing the words of great writers can help us think better and write better by burning a template of effective language into our brains. The war against memorization is ill-thought-out.

Alex said...

Craig - we all memorize, it's just a question of degree. Not everyone can sit down and memorize 100 poems in a week.

Alex said...

What about memorizing far harder things like organic molecules and integration formulas? God forbid!

deborah said...

Aw, Pall, so sweet. Bookmarked, and thank you.

ampersand said...

I wonder how far we are from technology directly merged into our brains? No memorizing. All knowledge a thought process away. Will we then be smarter or more stupid?

TerriW said...

Synova, Interesting point that you made about kids in Sunday School memorizing Bible verses. I teach Sunday School and I asked my 5th and 6th grade students to try to memorize the 23rd psalm. They seemed ok with the plan, but later the director of the school told me to not ask that of them...one kid complained that it was too hard, and the director did not want the kids "uncomfortable".

Reminds me of the scene in one of the Little House books where Laura was asked if she could memorize just one verse and they made it out like this was going to be this super hard thing -- and she was bewildered that it was only two words! (She doesn't say what it was, but I can only assume that it was "Jesus wept" -- what other two word phrase from the Bible could it be?) She was, of course, used to memorizing much longer passages for Ma.

deborah said...

TerriW, I was just looking up a passage from Little Town on the Prairie:

"Mental arithmetic was even harder [than mental diagramming]. Laura disliked arithmetic. Her heart beat desperately when her turn came and she was sure she would fail. She stood amazed, hearing her voice going glibly through problems in short division. "Divide 347,264 by 16. Sixteen into 34 goes twice, put down 2 and carry 2; sixteen into 27 goes once, put down 1 and carry 11; sixteen into 112 goes seven times, put down 7 and carry naught; sixteen into 6 does not go, put down naught. Sixteen into 64 goes 4 times, put down 4. Three hundred and forty-seven thousand, two hundred and sixty-four divided by sixteen equals---twenty-one thousand, seven hundred and four"

Bob_R said...

I think we under-value memorization. The best way to memorize most things is to actually learn how it works. That's certainly true of poetry or speeches like the Gettysburg address. (I remember having to do that in elementary school. Still remember quite a bit of it.)

When I teach abstract math courses I put statements of definitions on tests and quizzes. I used to assume they had them memorized - how do you prove something is a ring or a convergent sequence if you don't know the definitions? But too many of them had only very vague ideas of what the definitions were. I guess they thought they were going to string together a bunch of "proofish sounding" words and get credit.

traditionalguy said...

Memorization is never done by reading something silently to yourself and thinking about its meaning,

Memorization is ONLY the result the repeated mechanical act of reading the words of the scripture or poem out loud over and over and then trying to say it out loud without looking over several days or weeks.

Your mind inside your head absorbs the sounds that it hears coming from inside your speech organs every time. Once it's memorized that way, it will never leave you for life.

Synova said...

I think it's far easier to *remember* things that I understand the concept of, but that's different from memorization where word-for-word is the goal.

bagoh20 said...

The only thing of much length that I have memorized is my times tables in 4th grade. That was worth the effort. I can't think of much else that would be unless you are trying to impress someone, but then you have to ask if they are worth all that, and couldn't you just juggle or something instead. I mean with all that effort, you could have built something really impressive and more useful like a ship in a bottle or something.

The Drill SGT said...

had a retired Marine LTC in high school honors English 45 years ago.

he made us memorize major Shakespeare speeches, the Gettysburg Address, Declaration of independence, Preamble, etc. One chunk a week.

Hated it then. Love it now...

The Drill SGT said...

Your mind inside your head absorbs the sounds that it hears coming from inside your speech organs every time. Once it's memorized that way, it will never leave you for life.

The way to prove that is to speak your phone number rapidly. note, you don't remember the numbers and speak them, you just rattle off the string without thought.

furious_a said...

As we read the the Iliad our classics Teacher told us to imagine some Bronze Age Greek chanter committing both the words and the meter to memory...and then doing the same for the Odyssey, and then retrieving and reciting them on command.

I've never forgotten that.

bagoh20 said...

When I was in 6th grade, long hair was just coming to the masses, and my parents insisted that I get a crew cut, which was their idea of how a good kid should look. It no longer actually being the 50s, I disagreed. So I ran away from home with my dog in protest, and never showed up at school.

So I walk along the train tracks for a few hours out of town, then sit down for a while. I didn't have a plan, and didn't know what to do next, so out of boredom, I started counting to 1,000. I actually remembered all the numbers - every single one - a thousand numbers! Pretty impressive huh? Beat that smart asses.

Freeman Hunt said...

Poetry is for the profound times of life. In those times, you will always wish you had more to recall.

The Drill SGT said...

bagoh20 said...
I actually remembered all the numbers - every single one - a thousand numbers! Pretty impressive huh? Beat that smart asses.


that's not $hit. i could do that in 5th grade, backward from 1001, while riding my bike ;)

Michael said...

What a fantastic thread! Palladian!! Nicely done. I find I can refresh long ago memorized poems much easier than I can commit new ones. I am not sure it is age as mich as the loss of a habit of mind. I will recommit. Very impressive comments improved bythe absence of some commenters with but one exception. Something to ponder in the self selected cohorts here.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chef Mojo said...

I know a guy that can do that with The Odyssey, both in Greek and English. And he can pick any part of the epic and recite it.

He's a phlebotomist. Go figure.

I've had this knocking around my head since 1976:

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed;
I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.


That, and great bloody swathes of Shakespeare, Tennyson and Kipling.

Levi Starks said...

Memorizing requires one thing, you have to want to do it.
Last year I started memorizing Hebrews. I'm currently on chapter 11.
And I'm in my 50's
It's a very satisfying experience.

Paco Wové said...

I've never sat down and memorized "The Windhover", but damned if I don't find bits of it - the first part, at least - popping into my mind unbidden with surprising frequency.

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle!

bagoh20 said...

That is pretty cool, Palladian. I wish I could even just do a single accent or an impression. That kind of thing just seems impossible to me, yet some people seem to do it effortlessly.

Then again a lot stuff is that way. There must be a gene for artistic expression, that works in a lot of areas, and I don't have it. I was one of the more artistic ones as a kid, I lost it somewhere - right around the time I was developing my skills at rolling joints while driving.

Don't do drugs, kids.

Lydia said...

That's lovely, Palladian. And has some Irish lilt to it.

David said...

Brodsky spoke at my son's graduation from Dartmouth in 1989. He told them to take a deep breath and give thanks. They were leaving a fantasy land for a different world, where they would have to deal with disappointment, failure and caprice. They were not particularly special after all, and mostly they had just been lucky so far. Best graduation speech I ever heard.

I have not memorized it however.

vza said...

I saw a man this morning
Who did not wish to die:
I ask and cannot answer,
If otherwise wish I.

Fair broke the day this morning
Against the Dardanelles;
The breeze blew soft, the morn's cheeks
Were cold as cold sea-shells.

But other shells are waiting
Across the Aegean Sea,
Shrapnel and high explosive,
Shells and hells for me.

O hell of ships and cities,
Hell of men like me,
Fatal second Helen,
Why must I follow thee?

Achilles came to Troyland
And I to Chersonese:
He turned from wrath to battle,
And I from three days' peace.

Was it so hard, Achilles,
So very hard to die?
Thou knewest, and I know not---
So much the happier am I.

I will go back this morning
From Imbros over the sea;
Stand in the trench, Achilles,
Flame-capped, and shout for me.

Patrick Shaw-Stewart

vza said...


Stand in the trench, Achilles,
Flame-capped, and shout for me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otxQXrn-kEg

AllenS said...

I tried to memorize all of the words on the Burma Shave signs.

Rusty said...

I enjoy poetry.
I find poets tedious.

LarsPorsena said...

".....
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return! "

Michael said...

"Whatever happens we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not."
--Hilaire Belloc

ganderson said...

I'm in the education biz- we don't ask kids to memorize much- it's "drill and kill" don't you know. I believe ( and don't ask for the studies or citations) that memorization is calisthenics for the mind- and it's a great parlor trick!