Thursday, February 27, 2014

Memory Serves

As a child I was an early riser. I'd get up at dawn and roam silently around the house. One morning I picked up a sheet of paper my mom, then a college student, had left on a table. On it were typed the strangest words I'd ever seen. They formed a poem, and I read the paper over and over, fascinated by the screwy vocabulary. I was eight.

One night at dinner I began saying the poem from memory, for the hell of it, and everybody put down their forks and looked at me. I finished the poem with the repeated first stanza, " 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe..." Nobody commented, but years later I later learned I'd made some kind of impression. To this day I can recite the whole of "Jabberwocky" (Lewis Carroll), though I can't say it's ever come in handy.

Later, one of my college professors awarded us extra credit for memorizing passages of classic poems. I memorized stanzas from Milton, Keats, even Chaucer and them kinds of guys. The one that's gotten the most play in my life is from Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", where he talks of the bloody sun and the shrinking boards and you just can't find a decent drink of water anywhere.

You can hold a room spellbound with that passage, if you get into it. Just in case, here it is (from Part II):

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch's oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.

Have you memorized poetry? If so, what? Do you ever find yourself declaiming it?

[Photo by ES. OK, it's not an albatross, it's a frigate bird, but I bet you got the idea.] 

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  1. When I was in high school, 40 some years ago, I memorized the last lines of Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson ("Tho' much is taken, much abides....) Imagine my delight when Dame Judi Dench, as M, began reciting it at the end of Skyfall. I had to stop myself from standing up in the theater and reciting along with her.

    1. That's a great passage. I write it in sympathy letters.

  2. Yes! Have just started to memorize a poem a week - which I then declaim (brilliant word by the way) in the woods whilst walking my dog. I have a very loud voice - and may have frightened off a few people...
    My poem this week is - So We'll Go No More A Roving by Lord Byron

    1. I'm in awe, Spotty. That's a great practice. Will you keep us posted on how it goes?


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