Do you enjoy memorizing poetry?
Do you recall your youth, when when your teachers assigned you poems to memorize? Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Sound familiar? Or maybe you have craftily blocked that time period from your memory bank. But, like our quads and gluts, the brain is a muscle too. If we don’t exercise our muscles they’ll turn to flab. Memorizing poetry, or a song or scene from a movie, is just one way to keep our brains fit. And the profits are worth the time invested (I know, you’re wondering what the profits could possibly be).
Memorizing poetry primes our brains for retaining other types of information like names of people or a list of groceries. Studies have shown that rote learning benefits the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for consolidating short-term memory into long-term memory (http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/in-praise-of-memorization).
Memorization helps us focus, and improves our working memory – the ability to hold multiple pieces of information in the brain at once – allowing us to comprehend what we read, see, and hear. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, “the highest order of thinking occurs at the evaluating and creating levels which infer that the thinkers must have knowledge, facts, data, or information in their brains.” With the facts laid down in our brain, we are better prepared to evaluate information and think critically (http://www.edutopia.org/rote-learning-benefits.http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/in-praise-of-memorization).
A regular practice of memory training staves off cognitive decline. For those of you who are living with the sequelae of a brain injury, try memorizing a poem, even if it’s a short one, like The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/178804).
But how do you begin memorizing a poem? For me, I focus on two lines at a time, repeating them over and over. I close my eyes and visualize the words. For instance, a few years ago, I memorized my first poem, Once by the Pacific by Robert Frost. Here are the first two lines:
The shattered water made a misty din.
Great waves looked over others coming in
I started by envisioning myself walking along the beach, listening to the waves crashing to shore, washing over pebbles – the sound of “shattered” glass came to mind. “Shattered” became a signpost that carried me further into the poem. I immersed myself in the scene, watching the waves roll over one another. If you’ve been to the beach, you know how waves behave, so the key is to allow yourself to be there, in your head.
I tend to choose poems that resonate with me, the ones with which my body and psyche connect, like Once by the Pacific. Before I explain exactly how I connect with the poem, here are the remaining lines:
And thought of doing something to the shore
That water never did to land before.
The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.
You could not tell, and yet it looked as if
The shore was lucky in being backed by cliff,
The cliff in being backed by continent;
It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God’s last Put out the light was spoken.
For me, shattered, dark intent, rage, and more than ocean water broken conjure images of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, where an elderly driver hit me and dozens of other pedestrians. This poem catapults me back in time, just prior to the accident, a portent, if you will. You may wonder why I’d want to remember that moment, but the poem does much more than conjure tragedy ;it speaks to my love for the ocean. When I’m home in Vermont, hunkering down for another frigid winter, this poem transports me to the beach my husband and I visit a few times a year in Anna Maria island. Again, I close my eyes and see myself walking barefoot in the water, the waves massaging my feet, the salt marinating my wintered soles.
I’m currently memorizing T.S. Eliot’s Preludes – 54 lines. I’ve gotten part way through the third stanza. I’ll let you know how it goes.
What poems have you memorized, and what prompted you to choose them? What is your strategy for memorizing poems?