[Milton-L] memorizing dates

Beth Quitslund quitslun at ohio.edu
Fri Feb 20 17:11:47 EST 2004

At 04:29 PM 2/20/2004 -0500, you wrote:

> >   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.
>Cynthia G.

I once tried making students memorize ten lines of The Canterbury 
Tales--any ten lines of their choice!--but it was a rather dismal failure 
(some students boycotted, and most didn't actually have the lines 
memorized, and--my fault--I hadn't put enough emphasis on Middle English 
pronunciation that they felt remotely comfortable. But we're on the quarter 
system...). I suspect that it was the first time that any of them had been 
asked to memorize any kind of poetry not set to music. I theoretically 
believe very strongly that memorizing metrical poetry internalizes its 
rhythms in ways that are helpful for reading other metrical poetry. (This 
would disqualify the horrendous Jacques Prevert poem that my French class 
memorized in high school, and which now constitutes the only fluent 
sentences that I can speak in French.) As a pedagogical technique in the 
real world, I'm skeptical. Perhaps an older and superficially sterner 
instructor would have better luck by exercising the Curmudgeon Clause that 
grandfathers in, as it were, unfashionably rigorous assignments.

Also, sufficient quantities of memorized poetry can be very disruptive in 
the wrong hands. One martini-fueled introductory passage is amusing; three 
in rapid succession--say, Chaucer, the Aeneid, and Paradise Lost, recited 
by, say, my husband--can be a trial.

Beth Quitslund

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>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu


Beth Quitslund
Assistant Professor of English

Department of English
Ohio University
Athens, OH 45701
phone: (740) 593-2829
FAX: (740) 593-2818

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