In a recent post on my other blog, I mentioned that I’ve been working at memorizing psalms. I don’t find memorization easy (I’m now struggling with Psalm 83, “How beloved are Thy dwellings”), and I sometimes wish I’d gone to school in an era when memorization played a bigger part in education, or even in the far-off days when it wasn’t uncommon for a student to have all of Homer or the Upanishads — or, more to the point, the whole Psalter — by heart.
So I was pleased to come across On Memorization: A Twenty-first Century Ode, posted by Eileen Reynolds on the New Yorker’s literary blog. Reynolds talks about her desire to know more poetry by heart:
What I wish I’d learned in school, though, is poetry. I can hold my own at a certain kind of cocktail party by tossing off a line or two, and I know Shakespeare well enough to recognize when he’s being misquoted. But rattling off entire poems demands greater diligence, deeper understanding, and a higher form of literary confidence. I have long admired a good friend of mine—a poet—for his propensity, usually after a few drinks, to launch into spellbinding recitations of selected works by Coleridge, Eliot, Auden, and Frost. It’s one thing to read and love a poem, and it’s another to carry the words with you all the time, ready at any moment to share them with someone else.
She cites a recent New York Times essay, Drill, Baby, Drill, by Virginia Heffernan, who reports that educators are starting to think they’ve gone too far in downplaying drill and memorization in the classroom. In fact, she notes, many students gobble up extracurricular drill-and-practice books and programs to help them do the drilling they’re not getting in school.
My ears really perked up when she mentioned an iPhone/iPod app, VerseByHeart. It’s designed to help people memorize Bible verses, but it doesn’t come pre-loaded — you can plug in the text of your favorite Bible version, or any other texts, such as poetry. (I wonder if the Homeric epics will fit on an iPod?)
Next time I get near a wi-fi hot spot, VerseByHeart is going onto my iPod. We’ll see how much it helps.
The graphic is from the Times article mentioned in this post.