Saturday, September 22, 2007

Committing to Memory

Last year I went to dinner with a teacher from Don’s school who has since retired from grade school resource room teaching and now teaches at the University. Thank goodness she’s being utilized this way, because Marilyn has a mind that astonishes.

Sitting at Sultan’s eating schwarma before going to a lecture at the University, we discussed poetry, among other things. She knew I was a writer. She asked what poems I’ve memorized written by other poets. I looked at her, “um, well, maybe a couple.”

“Why!” she asked. And she proceeded to praise the benefits of memorizing and reciting poems.

Well, John Hollander, at the request of the Academy of American Poets, has compiled an anthology of over 100 poems for memorization: Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize. The poems were chosen mostly for younger readers. They are short, but not too short. Many have rhyme, because free verse is harder to remember/memorize.

Don has taught his 4th graders to memorize Carl Sandberg’s “Fog” and Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I learned them with him during those times. (Those are the “couple” I told Marilyn I know.)


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

- Carl Sandberg

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

- Robert Frost

Hollander’s anthology includes sonnets (such as Shakespeare’s #18 “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”), songs (such as Blake’s “The Tyger”), counsels (such as “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas), tales (such as “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll), and meditations (such as “To Autumn” by Keats).

This anthology is of poems written in English. I would like to add poems written in other languages that have been translated well, if I’m going to memorize poems. I'll have to figure out which ones these will be, need to read more.

The benefits of memorizing poetry are maintaining oral traditions, hearing the melodies of the words, not just reading them, using and challening your brain in ways other activities don’t. And reciting poems together with someone you like is a treat.
Will you join me?


Loring Wirbel said...

I would immediately recommend any of the shorter poems of Lee Upton, native of Fowler, Mich., English prof. at Lafayette in Pennsylvania, and one of the finest poets of the 21st century.

Here's "Fidelities" from her anthology, "Approximate Darling":


Hepatica, columbine, shooting star,
What of the fidelities not mastered
by fear?
The whalebacks of the garbage scows

Shudder across the morning bay.
Each day of the new year settles
into place,
The nervous system of roots within
a cliff.

A glass of juice beats on a saucer
Above the city's liver-colored
Queerly figured in sunlight,

The balcony's rim rises above
Hepatica, columbine, shooting star.

(Lee Upton's poetry books are "The Invention of Kindness," "No Mercy," "Approximate Darling," "Civilian Histories," and "Undid in the Land of Undone." She also has several books of literary criticism.)

Heather said...

Oy, I'm bad and almost never memorize anything. I'll try to memorize something for ya, though. And it won't be a limmerick! :)

Ruth said...

Here's another one, Loring, my gosh. A wonderful autumn poem:

Apology To Keats

How the season surrounds us and mistakes
itself for some other force,
while we may be left wondering:
What was she doing
with our bolt of wishes?
through the ground with the spoils
of acorn, gourd.
One life
inverted into a swollen detail,
until what we wished for squeaked
half-liquid and ripe
under our breastbones,
turning us pliant to one world in another world,
the point of falling, of leave-taking,
abrupt processions
wind-shuffled and splitting.
Like fire and time, it must be stolen
while falling.
What's fallen is anyone's.
What comes through air to ground.
Just that much space.
A short dive.
Think how easy it would be to ruin our lives.

Lee Upton

Ruth said...

Cool, Heather! let's pick one to memorize together. You wanna pick, or shall I? I know, let's both pick 3 and see if we can agree on one?

Theresa said...

Hi I am back, I was disappointed that I didn't have one single poem committed to memory and then one came to me- it is simple but I do have it memorized:

A smile is something nice to see
It does not cost a cent
A smile is somehting all your own
It can never be spent

A smile is welcome anywhere
It does away with frowns
A smile is good for everyone
To ease lifes up and downs

(I do not know the author)

Ruth said...

Theresa, I wonder how old you were when you memorized that poem, and isn't it great you still remember it? It's so much easier to memorize as a youngster. That's why I'm so glad my husband is doing it with his students, and they don't seem to dread it, they quite enjoy it. They even recited it for the Christmas program one year (Frost's).

Theresa said...

Hi Ruth,

Older than one might think- about 18 (so it is funny that it just came back to me 26 years later since I do not think I have quoted it in at least a couple years).

In high school people always told me I was a nice girl who smiled a lot but was too quiet-I saw this poem got a copy of it and memorized it for just myself.

oh by the way I try to teach the finer points of math to high school students.

Ginnie said...

The cuter or funnier, the easier it is for me to remember, Ruth. One from 45+ years ago still sticks in my mind (taught to me by a blind girlfriend):

"TB or not TB,
That is the congestion.
Consumption be done about it?
Of cough, of cough,
But it takes a lung lung time."

Okay. I'll work on something a bit more serious! I promise.

Ruth said...

Theresa, I like that you picked a poem that suited your situation. :) Kinda like me memorizing a snow accident poem Heather picked out (not knowing about my accident).

Ruth said...

Theresa, I meant to say, good for you on the math. I sure wish I had a brain that could get those facts. So what kind of graduate program are you applying for (since you're taking the GRE)?

Ruth said...

Boots, I want to laugh, but what a subject for a funny poem! Gosh. :)

Let me know when/if you pick something out to memorize.

I "memorized" "Upon Julia's Clothes" yesterday, and then tried to recite it for Don last night, and I totally got stuck. I think I need to keep working a bit longer on it . . .

lesleyanne said...

i love both those poems so very much.
especially fog. definitely a great one to memorize. hey, maybe even i'll memorize it!
you continue to astonish me mamma. i haven't been in the blogging world for a week or so, and here you have like 8 new posts! i need to get with the program.

sex said...