[Milton-L] memorization

Gregory Machacek Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu
Mon Feb 23 12:09:39 EST 2004

I have students memorize and recite passages in survey, intro-to-lit-study,
and upper-level period classes:  a sonnet, a Spenserian stanza, 20 lines of

Students can be a little resistant to the assignment, but once they've done
it, most of them report being happy that I made them do it.  Some of them
flag me down years later to prove that they still have their passage

As several list members have mentioned, I manifest the value of the
activity by myself reciting passages throughout the semester.  (My favorite
student comment on rate-my-professor.com mentions my reciting lycidas from
memory, and another says that "his class is boring but he can recite poems
without even looking at the book, like he wrote them himself").

Unlike Kent Lehnhof, I do not find that having passages by heart fixes
their meaning.  On the contrary, I vividly remember being out on a stroll
one day, running through "Shall I compare thee" and noticing for the first
time in the line "every fair from fair sometime declines" that the first
"fair" means fair thing, and the second fair means "fairness," so that the
repeated word itself "declines," if you will, from the more concrete to the
more abstract.

For anyone to whom it would be of value, I attach hereunto a handout I
distribute to students to coach them through the process (recite), as well
as the grading grid that I use to evaluate their performance (memchart).

I don't have time to work up the defense I would like to against James
Fleming's claim that natural scientists might find the practice
unprofessional and belletristic.  So I'll just wonder why practices that
might be appropriate to our discipline could only count as properly
professional if natural scientists would approve of them.

Greg Machacek
Chair, Dept of English
Marist College

(See attached file: recite.doc)(See attached file: memchart.doc)
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