Tag Archives: memory

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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Solzhenitsyn on Writing

Don’t have time to write? Can’t get in front of a computer? That didn’t stop Solzhenitsyn. In fact, Solzhenitsyn looks at his time in the gulag as essential to his becoming a writer.

In response to the question how he became a writer, Solzhenitsyn said that in a serious sense this did not take place until he found himself in prison.

I had tried my hand at literary writing even before the war, and had made determined efforts of this kind while I was a university student, but this could hardly be called serious writing because I lacked life experience. I began to write in earnest in prison, doing it in a conspiratorial fashion, concealing the very fact that I was writing—this was absolutely crucial. My method involved remembering the texts composed and learning them by heart. I started doing this with verse, then with prose as well.

I have often written abou the importance of memorizing poetry and the importance the excercise of memory. Memory is perhaps the most underused and under appreciated mental facility of the modern age. We have become mentally lazy because there is no longer a necessity to memorize things – or so we think; cheap printed material, and now digital, searchable archives mean people can reference quotes and information easily and quickly. But relying on this makes as much sense as allowing your muscles to atrophy and not exercising simply because there are cars, planes and escalators so there is no need to be as physically fit as in the past.

Secondly, he though he could not write, that did not stop him from ‘writing’ and creating in his mind. He didn’t say “Oh well, I don’t have a typewriter (or the time, or paper, or whatever).

Most of us, thank God, will never have to experience the gulag (though I would not be so complacent about this), but we have experienced ‘gulags’ of our own making, or monotonous jobs that we look at ‘life draining’ it is often in those experiences that are necessary to draw our deepest creative facilities, if we make use of them. On a lighter note, a favorite author of mine, PG Wodehouse made use of his terrible, unpleasant job at a bank to write one of my favorite ‘novel’s by him “Psmith in the City”.

Lastly, Solzhenitsyn would never and could never have composed and created this work if he did not have strong faith and a sense of hope. I am not talking about Oprah-TheSecret-Jesus-is-going-to-give-me-a-new-BMW sort of hope; but rather a deep, serious, faith.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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