No picture of mere memory ever looked/so fair
—Wordsworth, The Prelude
How is your memory? When it comes to certain things, my memory is like a steel trap; but otherwise, it’s more like a soggy noodle. I’ve always been impressed by my friends who can quote things verbatim, especially long works of poems. My one friend can recite Poe’s The Raven from heart, and I had another friend who recited Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner while we were sailing on the Chesapeake one day (a perfect setting).
But memory and poetry have a long, interlinked history—and some may even argue genesis—together, going back to the first poets, who most likely sang the epics from memory accompanied by a lyre. And during Shakespeare’s time, it was pub game to begin reciting a line of poetry from memory, and your partner had to finish the poem, or so I remember one of my English teachers telling me.
Even up through the Romantic age, we hear of Wordsworth composing the The Prelude while on a walk, and having to hold it in the vault of his mind before being able to write it down after reaching home.
As for me, I’ve always let myself off the hook of memorization by using the excuse that I have a faulty memory pod.
But last year, I read Joshua Foer’s great book Moonwalking with Einstein, which dispelled this erroneous excuse, and made me believe that I, too, can have a great memory, and so can you. In this book, he talks about how the Ancients trained their minds to achieve uncanny feats of memorization through the Method of Loci. However, Mr. Foer does concede that memorizing words, such as poetry, can be one of the more difficult challenges of memorization, but there are benefits to putting yourself through such a mental workout.
So what about you, dear reader? If you want to improve your memory, or are simply a lover of poetry, you should plan on attending the upcoming Poems by Heart here at the Pratt Library, on August 28, where you can flex those memory muscles. So mark your calendars, or—better yet—simply remember the date, and come ready to recite from heart.