The Importance of Memorization and Poetry.

I have written here before about the lost art of memorization particularly of poetry, and a theory that it provided artists a rich wellspring of inspiration. For example, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and probably just about any Florentine artist could quote Dante at length.

The closest equivalent, perhaps, today, is to quote pop music lyrics (just about the only umm verse most people have memorized). I often hear essayists, ministers, and authors quote them when explaining some perplexing aspect of life (“you know, when you feel like that Rolling Stone’s song ‘get off of my cloud”) . But really, aren’t we drinking from a rather shallow well here?

Now comes a book that examines the historic use of memorized poetry in the classroom: Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem. The book (according to reviews, I have not read it) explores uses of memorization and theories behind it. It sounds more like an academic survey and thoughtful history that one of those “how memorizing poetry can make you great and give you and edge” books.

Some quotes from various reviews:

The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen. Robson puts the point succinctly: “If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.”

She quotes one Percival Chubb, an American who wrote in a frequently reprinted book on teaching English in the elementary school that although memory and recitation are useful in “confirming the child in correct ways of speaking .??.??. its greatest service is in storing the mind with the priceless treasure of the noblest thoughts and feelings that have been uttered by the race.” These early impressions and memories “impart a tone to one’s spiritual system for life, rich and pure enough to outsing all base and cruder songs and to set the pitch of character.”Reason for Rhyme
The lost art of memorizing (and reciting) verse.

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