Edith Foster, a classicist who writes curricula for the National Endowment for the Humanities, suggests a summer project: Teach your children to memorize poetry and speeches.
Memorization does not deserve its reputation as a killer of creativity. On the contrary, memorization is useful to the whole process of thought creation. It exercises intelligence and quiet concentration, creates a supply of examples to think with and about, and provides models of speech that can be accommodated to suit different themes. Memorization is the basis of versatility, because examples that live in the mind are truly one’s own: they can be molded and recast for any useful purpose.
. . . Memorization is a discipline. ItÕs not totally easy. But it makes ideas permanently accessible to the mind. Whether you choose to memorize a poem, something from the Bible, part of a speech, or part of a play, whatever you memorize will become a possession of your family.
Foster gives specific advice on how to teach memorization — including letting your teen-agers realize that they’re better at it than you are. Classic Poems to Read Aloud has some good options, she writes.
I memorized and recited The Highwayman in fifth grade — just for the hell of it. (Actually, I was very nervous about saying “hell” in public in the “though hell should bar the way” lines, even though the teacher said it was OK.) I still remember the first part.
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight, over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding, riding, riding,
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.
Likewise I remember the Wordsworth sonnet I had to learn in high school. “The world is too much with us late and soon. Getting and spending we lay waste our powers. Little we see in nature that is ours . . . ”
And: “Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gire and gimble in the wabe. All mimsy were the borogroves and the mome raths outgrabe.”
If you learn it, you own it.
Via No Left Turns.