[Milton-L] memorizing dates

John Rumrich rumrich at mail.utexas.edu
Sun Feb 22 14:22:08 EST 2004

Like Captain Harper, I require students to memorize passages (usually a 
total of 75-80 lines) in every undergraduate course in which we are 
reading poetry, even the mandatory sophomore intro to lit.  The 
students must deliver the lines orally; this helps them to recognize 
the difference between reading poems with their eyes and hearing them 
with their ears ("oozy locks he laves" with all its potential for 
liason is a useful example to cite in class--write it on the board and 
then say it out loud; they'll understand).  There's also a story I have 
them read called ladle rat rotten hut (little red riding hood) and the 
anomalous woof, which generally won't be understood until someone reads 
it out loud.

Students who come into class entirely innocent of prosody will, after 
memorization, honestly understand what "iambic pentameter" means.  
Their appreciation of poetic syntax and their comprehension of what 
they are reading increase dramatically.

Some students find the assignment oppressive.  I explain it on the 
first day of class and encourage them to drop the course if the 
prospect of memorization is repellant.  I justify the assignment 
historically.  We live in the first period of history where technology 
permits intrusion into our skulls in the most mundane and involuntary 
manner.  Elizabeth could coerce attendance at church once a week.  They 
all memorize things they don't choose to memorize all the time, without 
any volitional effort.  They never set out to memorize the ingredients 
of a big mac or the lyrics to some milli vanilli song; they just know 
them.  This assignment affords them a chance to reshape a small portion 
of their minds through active and instructive discipline.  They get to 
choose the passages from Milton or Shakespeare they want; so there is 
some autonomy, and a lot of beauty to choose from.

I grew up when memorization had gone out of fashion, except in 
catechism school.  The deep interior value and multiple benefits of 
rote learning are for me a discovery of adulthood.  Hence my evangelism 
about this.  Your indulgence please if I've droned on for too long.

Johnny Mnemonic

On Feb 20, 2004, at 4:16 PM, Harper, D. CPT ENG wrote:

> 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
> hate." Fr. John Weston _______________________________________________
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