Monday, October 1, 2012

Memorizing Poetry

Beowulf fighting Grendel
From John Miller Dow Meiklejohn - "Poetry stands at the head of all the literature of the imagination.  Some people of highly utilitarian views decry poetry, and desire to feed all readers upon facts.This is a great mistake.  The highest expressions of moral and intellectual truth... are in poetic form.  Take out of the world's literature the works of its great poets and you would leave it poor indeed." 

Verse is the earliest form of literature because it was easiest to memorize.  It passed from father to son for generations.
The poems of Homer are another example of oral memorization that was passed down for hundreds of years before they were ever in writing.
The original author of many oral works is unknown.  Beowulf, the oldest head rhyme poem in the English language, wasn't written down until the 9th century, but surely it was sung by warriors and families at feasts for 400 years prior.

It researching his novel "Roots", Alex Haley returns to Africa to find the village of his great grand father who was taken into slavery.  This small village had a shaman, or story teller who was responsible for archiving the history of the village within his memory.  Sometimes these men can memorize the names, dates, deeds and disasters of a village for hundreds of years.  Indeed, when Haley questioned the shaman about his great grandfather, the shaman knew his name, and how old he was when he disappeared.

Memorization is a lost art.  We think we write things down to relieve our brains from the hardship and drudgery of memorization, but we do ourselves a disfavor. The more a work is written down, the more our minds and hearts are lost to it.  How many things do you have memorized? Can you recite something for me?

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