...I wonder if you still can??
I don't mean all you bright young things who still have every grey cell you were born with, more those who may, like me, be of that 'certain' age when remembering why you've walked in the room can be enough of a challenge, but can you still learn poetry by heart??
Mention of Edward Thomas yesterday has me back in poetry mood, but how I'd love to be one of those people for whom a well-placed poetic quote trips off the tongue rather than just the words to Daydream Believer by the Monkees when I hear it on the radio.
It is being suggested that we will be learning some of our choir words by heart next season and I can only hope that weekly Tuesday evening repetition between September and May, along with the cue of musical accompaniment and standing next to someone who's got it pat will do the trick, because when it comes to poetry I seem to fail.
It's taken me about five years to remember my mobile number, I'm not feeling too optimistic, but I also remind myself of something I heard the other day and have not forgotten ... sort of, something about the fact that we are holding as much information in our heads in one day as our ancestors would have heard and held in a week... or was it two weeks.
I bought the Ted Hughes collection By Heart on cassette to play in the car when I was out and about health visiting, in the vain hope I'd learn poetry by repetition and some form of osmosis which seemed possible given Ted's instruction.
In his introduction Ted Hughes explains how we can overcome the problem by using a memory system that becomes easier the more frequently it is practised. The collected 101 poems are both personal favourites and particularly well-suited to the method Hughes demonstrates. Spanning four centuries, ranging from Shakespeare and Keats through to Auden and Heaney, By Heart offers the reader a 'mental gymnasium' in which the memory can be exercised and trained in the most pleasurable way.
But then I'd go and do a visit and my mental gynasium would be diverted, and I'd forget it all and that cassette's long gone the way of them all having unravelled itself in the machine and ended up in the bin.
So is there a method for doing something which came so readily in my youth that I could apply now??
Set the task of learning a Shakespeare soliloquy for school homework I'd usually leave it until I had boarded the 408 bus to school at Wallington Green on the morning of the written test. By Sutton High Street I'd got the gist, more friends would get on and we'd join forces and by the time the bus reached Cheam Village we were more or less fluent and had probably driven the other passengers insane, as well as appearing like embarrassing little know-it-alls in our straw boaters. There would be a minor panic when we would all suddenly realise that we'd need to get the start and end of each line right too, so some bright spark would make up a quick mnemonic using the first letters of each line.TCTATLTATS will keep you pondering for a while perhaps but we knew what we meant, and I can still recite FITTSHIA to this day, though fat lot of good that is now. TWTOANTDDT still spills out at odd moments.
Earliest memories are of nursery rhymes of course, still recommended by speech therapists as one of the best tools for speech and language development in young children. This being me I still have The Golden Book of Nursery Rhymes that I am clutching here in my toddler hand, though that smile belies the fact that I was probably about to deliver a glancing blow because my brother has the custard pan in his hand and is looking a bit too self-satisfied for my liking.
An ancient family tradition the scraping out of the custard pan, but this book may also be where that dread skill of marginalia had its origins, though I know we would have been in serious trouble for this desecration.
I've been thinking too about the books that turned me back onto poetry after too much studying seemed to have blunted the impact and I feel sure it was the Bloodaxe anthologies. I've had a copy of Staying Alive since it was first published and recently added the sequel Being Alive to my collection.
But I digress... do you still have those poems you learned years ago fresh and to hand, or soliloquies, or Archimedes principle, and can you and do you still learn poetry by heart?
And if so what's your method?
And could someone please offer solace by confirming that they also know what follows 'Oh, I could hide 'neath the wings of the bluebird as she sings...'