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One Woman's View: Memorize

Contributing writer

Once a month I have “chat time” with residents at the long-term care unit of Hillsboro Community Medical Center. I read some short piece I hope will spark memories, and then we reminisce together. Often I read from Good Old Days magazine or the books of collected articles from it. This month I read an essay by a Margaret Ferguson about the quotations she had memorized in her school days.

Ferguson said that her fourth grade teacher devoted the last half hour of each day to reciting bits of wisdom she called “memory gems.” She gave a number of examples of these, some familiar and some not so familiar.

“When the Breton sailor puts to sea, his prayer is, ‘Keep me, O God, for my boat is so small and Thy ocean is so wide.’”

“Oh! A wonderful thing is a seed;

The one thing deathless ever,

The one thing changeless, utterly true,

Forever old, forever new,

And fickle and faithless never.

“Plant hate, and hate will spring;

Plant love, and love will grow;

Today you may sow, tomorrow will bring

The blossoms that show what sort of thing

Is the seed, the seed that you sow.”

Perhaps my favorite is from Robert Burns’s poem, “Tam O’Shanter:”

“But pleasures are like poppies spread;

You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;

Or like the snow falls on the river;

A moment white—then melts forever.”

Incidentally, if you have never read “Tam O’Shanter,” it is a delightful poem, although it is a little long to memorize in its entirety.

She recalled memorizing longer poems for prizes in the upper grades. Some of the selections she remembered learning were The Children’s Hour, The Chambered Nautilus, The Little Toy Dog and Abou Ben Adhem. The last was a favorite of mine. When I tried reciting it for my chat group, I found I still remember it.

I don’t think I ever had a teacher who had us recite things we had memorized every day. Somewhere along the way we memorized poems to recite on Friday afternoons. People who were students a few years before me did a lot more memorizing. Most of my memorization was not required; I just did it for the joy of it.

Sometimes I think we should still do more memorizing. I don’t see today’s teachers pushing children to memorize great literature. Even in Sunday school and vacation Bible school in our churches there is less emphasis on Scripture memory than there used to be. I regret that, because I know the verses you memorize as a child tend to stay with you for life. If I try to memorize Bible verses or poetry now, I have trouble keeping them in my mind for a week.

By the time I was teaching high school English, requiring students to memorize was definitely out of fashion, although my supervising teacher when I did my practice teaching had his sophomores memorize a quotation a week.

I wasn’t ever brave enough to force students to do much memorizing. However, I did require my junior American literature students to learn the last stanzas of “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant and “The Chambered Nautilus” by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

“So live that when thy summons comes to join

The innumerable caravan which moves

To that mysterious realm where each shall take

His chamber in the silent halls of death,

Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,

Scourged to his dungeon; but, sustain’d and soothed

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.” and

“Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,

As the swift seasons roll!

Leave thy low-vaulted past!

Let each new temple, nobler than the last

Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,

Till thou at length art free,

Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!”

Perhaps there were some students who disliked poetry, because of having to memorize it for school. I think that was the fear which kept me from making young people do much memorization. For me, however, it opened doors to many wonders and gave me a love for poetry which has filled my life with delight. Over a lifetime I have memorized enough poems to occupy my mind through hours of insomnia.

No, I am not going to give you homework. But if you take some time to memorize favorite quotations, Bible verses and poems, I am sure they will be a pleasure to recall and may give you encouragement or guidance in a troubled time. Go ahead and memorize and encourage your children to do it too.

Last modified Sept. 24, 2008

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