[Milton-L] memorizing dates

Harper, D. CPT ENG David.Harper at usma.edu
Fri Feb 20 17:16:04 EST 2004

An interesting question about recitations. I suspect we might be one of
the last English Departments that still regularly employs such a method.

We require all cadets to perform four graded recitations of poetry
throughout the semester during EN102 (Introduction to Literature). I
usually include some Milton in the required or suggested recitations,
but always assign the last sixteen lines of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian
Urn" for their first attempt. 

While many cadets think these assignments are "a haze," I'm usually able
to help them see their merits. The first reason for assigning
recitations is that one simply must understand a poem to properly
perform it properly. I can tell in an instant whether the reciting
student understands the verse or is just repeating "words." These
exercises also help teach a sensitivity to meter & rhyme schemes and
allow me ample opportunity to explain how these elements impact meaning.
Finally, there are the more prosaic benefits of training memorization
skills, practicing public speaking, and improving concentration. 

I encourage creativity to include props, costumes, etc. I've had
students bring in guitars and put sonnets to music, or groups of
students collaborating on the performance. It tends to be a creative
outlet sorely needed during what is called the "gloom period" here, when
the gray skies, buildings, and uniforms all blend together. By the
second or third recitation, they are usually quite fun.

As I assure my classes, I can think of worse things to have imprinted
upon memory than some Keats, Blake, Milton, or Owen. 

I'd be interested to hear if other instructors have similar experiences
with the method. 

Dave Harper

Captain David A. Harper
Assistant Professor, Department of English
United States Military Academy
(845) 938-2643

-----Original Message-----
From: gilliaca at jmu.edu [mailto:gilliaca at jmu.edu] 
Sent: Friday, February 20, 2004 4:30 PM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Cc: milton-l at koko.richmond.edu
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] memorizing dates

>   Better than memorizing dates would be to memorize a
>   few stanzas of Milton.
Here's a question for the list: do any of you require 
students to memorize and recite passages from the poetry? If 
so, which and why? 

It used to be the case that Chaucer students were required to 
memorize and recite the beginning of the General Prologue; in 
fact, this was required of high school students long ago.  My 
late father, who attended high school in Attica, New York in 
the 30s was required to do this, and could reel it off pretty 
convincingly for years and years.  A martini enhanced the 
vigor of the performance.

I was not asked to memorize poetry, but ended up memorizing a 
poem in 6th grade, because we did a dramatic rendering 
of "Barbara Fritchie," and I was part of the narrative 
chorus, and we rehearsed a lot.

I regret to say that I can still reel off a good chunk of "Up 
from the meadows, rich with corn..."  I, too, find that a 
martini helps.

Please - tell about memorization efforts, if any.

Cynthia G.


Cynthia A. Gilliatt
English Department, JMU
JMU Safe Zones participant
"You have made God in your own image when God hates the same people you
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