Memorization gets a bad rap these days. When criticizing a class, students often say something like, “It’s just a lot of memorization!” We equate memorization with busy work, something tedious that has no purpose. But many of the longest and greatest works of literature—such as Beowulf and the Iliad—existed entirely in memorized form before they were written down. Is there still a point to memorizing poetry even after the invention of writing?
I’d argue yes. I love memorizing poetry, even though it can be hard. Here are a few reasons why I think it’s worth it to commit poems to memory.
Yet another Poetry Friday disguising as a Theology Thursday! Poetry is great and so is theology–I can’t resist the urge to combine them. Neither, apparently, could John Milton. Today, we’re taking a look at his famous “Sonnet on his Blindness.”
This past semester, my English teacher announced that today, we were going to read a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
The girl next to me groaned. “Ugh,” she said. “Not Hopkins.”
Now, this girl happens to be a lovely person and a good friend of mine, but in that moment, it was as if the devil himself sat in that chair. I spun around. “Hopkins is the best poet in the English language.”
“That’s subjective,” she said. “He’s boring.”
Um, hell no. The quality of poetry is not, and can never be, subjective. It is not dependent on one’s personal enjoyment of the poem.
Every so often, I’ll come across a poem that sort of sticks around in my mind. It’s not that I memorize it on purpose or read it so many times that I may as well have memorized it. The poem just buries itself in the back of my head and comes up, unbidden, every now and then.
“Flying at Night” is one of those poems. I came across it in sixth grade English class, and it’s stuck around with me. The rhythm of it pleases me, and every time I happen to be in an airplane at nighttime, the lines float around in my head.
If you walk barefoot across a field, you are certain to get bitten and/or stabbed by at least three angry bugs or plants. If you scour the bushes for something edible, you’ll be lucky if you come across one dewberry. More likely, you’ll find poison ivy and a thorny vine.
When I visited Oregon, Canada, and Michigan, I was surprised to discover that nature doesn’t hate you. You can walk across a field barefoot, and the clover-covered ground is springy and comforting. Berry bushes pop up everywhere–Marion berries, salmonberries, blueberries, blackberries, black raspberries–without you even looking for them.