[Milton-L] teaching practices and memorization

Roy Flannagan roy at gwm.sc.edu
Mon Feb 23 13:06:31 EST 2004

I liked the idea that everything works in teaching, and nothing works. 
I used to try the Bugs-Bunny-imagery approach to "Lycidas," with
"touched his trembling ears," and that worked sometimes--with a class
with a collective sense of humor.

With memorization, I am frighteningly aware that even Milton editors
have widely different types of memory (think of John Shawcross for dates
and facts, John Leonard for lines of poetry recited verbatim, and me for
associational connections).  It happens that I am no longer able to
memorize lines as an actor memorizes them, so I hesitate to make my
students memorize, though I know it did me good in the fifth, sixth, and
seventh grades.  To memorize a passage of great poetry is to own it, and
sometimes ownership leads to understanding.  (But how about translating
Paradise Lost into classical Latin, and back again: wouldn't that be
great pedagogy?)

Although I sponsored readings of the whole of Paradise Lost in the early
Nineties (hey, that was before it was fashionable), I don't want to make
students do something I can't do, even if you give me a line of Paradise
Lost, sometimes, and I might be able to give you the next line from a
cracked and chipped memory.

But maybe I will do as Angelica does, and ask for memorization in the
next Ren Lit or Milton class I teach, even if I know I am giving drama
students, or the new generation of little John Leonards or John
Shawcrosses I am lucky enough to have in my classes, the advantage over
the mnemonically impaired.

Roy Flannagan

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