Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Art of Poetic Anamnesis

Memorization is something that is quickly flying out the window. Growing up, we were encouraged to memorize swaths of the Bible, something I should probably do more of (but now in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). If that's not your ticket, how about modern poetry?

An article in the NYTimes talks about reasons for and gives tips how to memorize some Auden, Yeats, Chaucer, Shakespeare, etc., in tiny increments each day. With just a few lines each day, over time you'll have a vast collection of poems at your memory's disposal. There have been a few times I have pulled a few lines out of Shakespeare when relevant for my class (and not just when I was teaching Shakespeare). And I've actually been wanting to read some W.H. Auden, but haven't had the chance. The best reason beyond any cultural literacy, etc., is just for your own pleasure. Why not give a short poem a shot?

Here is a poem by W.H. Auden:

The Fall of Rome

The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar's double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

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