[Milton-L] Memorized poetry

Bob Blair bblair48 at yahoo.com
Fri Jun 15 22:26:59 EDT 2012

I had to memorize parts of _Julius Caesar_ in high school (c. 1965).  I recall them tolerably well.  But I remember best (and still recite) three pieces from non-academic sources:
1. My friend Brian Price and I spent a week on the Current River in Missouri. One night, around a fire on a gravel bar, he taught me Keats's "Much have I traveled in the realms of gold...".  And many goodly states and kingdoms seen.
2. "The Spell of the Yukon".  Price may have been involved in that, too; I don't remember.  I still mumble parts of it as I go to sleep: "And the summers, no fairer were ever./The sun-shiny woods all athrill;/The grayling aleap in the river,/And the bighorn asleep on the hiill...."
3, Houseman's "Terrance, this is stupid stuff...".  I learned this just because I wanted to. "And therefore, since the world has still/Much good, but much less good than ill,/I'd face it as a wise man would,/And train for ill and not for good."
It's good to lead a horse to water.  Making undergraduates memorize may unlock a desire to drink that will satisfy a thirst many years later.

--- On Fri, 6/15/12, Mario A. DiCesare <dicesare1 at mindspring.com> wrote:

From: Mario A. DiCesare <dicesare1 at mindspring.com>
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Memorized poetry
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Date: Friday, June 15, 2012, 4:46 PM


    There are, or at least were, ways of making this work fairly well. 
    Back in 1943, as I began my junior year in a poor-boys prep school
    (our families paid between five and thirty dollars a month for
    tuition, room, and board -- but of course we worked hard on the
    school farm...), a new priest just out of semiary and full of beans
    decided to do something different with Macbeth.


    l had little regard for Shakespeare in those days  -- the first two
    years had been pretty much a disaster.  But this new young priest,
    Father Joe Donahue, wanted to do things differently.  We were to
    read Macbeth in our class, and he was determined that this
    experience would not be the same as our experience with Julius
      Caesar in the previous year, as he'd heard of it from some of
    my more enterprising classmates.  We started it in the regular
    morning class, but then he surprised us by suggesting that if anyone
    wanted to do some extra reading of the play, we might come to his
    rooms.  Four of us did.  A large box of succulent chocolates sat,
    open for all to see and lust after, on his coffee table, but we
    could not touch until we'd done our work.  We did our work.  The
    presence of the chocolates made the work pleasant, and Macbeth
    finally turned me on to Shakespeare.  When he asked us to memorize
    speeches, no one objected, and we worked hard at it.


    Joe died last year.  The news revived all sorts of  warm memories.




    On 6/15/2012 7:30 PM, Carrol Cox wrote:

        What one memorizes
              in high school doesn’t
              necessarily remain with one. My speech teacher in h.s.
              arranged for a couple of
              us to ‘entertain’ some local music club. I had to memorize
              some rather long
              poem by Lowell (the old fart, not Robert). I don’t even
              remember the title of
              the poem or what it was about, yet I had it well memorized
              in 1946.
        I did memorize quite
              a few fragments on
              my own, & they were useful in getting me through my
              first night in the
              polio ward. But I don’t remember now what they were.
                milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
                [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu]
                On Behalf Of Michael

                Friday, June 15, 2012 11:03

                To: John
                Milton Discussion List

                Re: [Milton-L] Memorized
        For decades I have been assigning memorization in
              course that include
          1. I think it is important to allow students
                wide latitude in what to
                memorize, since the poems will be stuck in their heads
                forever. I ask for a
                poem or selection (from the syllabus) of 14-20 lines.
                Sometimes I specify
                iambic pentameter, because it's important that they
                learn to hear that
                particular music. I wouldn't specify Paradise
                    Lost, because it is the hardest metrical
                verse to memorize, owing to
                the enjambments and long complicated sentences with
                moveable elements.
          2. Not in writing, but I repeatedly emphasize
                that to memorize
                language, you must repeat it out loud. (Some people will
                attempt useless
                tactics like writing it out.)
          3. I don't grade it, but assign full points for
                just getting through
                the poem. I allow second tries. I make a further
                deduction from their
                participation grade if they don't even attempt the
          4. It should be far enough into the course that
                students have had
                the chance to find that they like a poem. Most people
                can learn a sonnet in an
                hour or so.
          5. They recite privately in my office. Many kids
                are anxious enough
                even without a larger audience. However, I call on all
                students to read verse
                aloud and repeatedly during class. I coach the mumblers
                to try again, read big,
                don't isolate that enjambment, etc. I think speaking
                verse adequately should be
                a learning objective in courses that include poetry.
          As to my experience as a student, I was asked to
                memorize in high
                school 50 years ago and can still say the verses. I was
                not asked to memorize
                in college. 
            On Thu, Jun 14, 2012 at 4:40 PM, Duran,
                  Angelica A <duran0 at purdue.edu>
            Dear scholars,


                  I am interested in finding out about the experiences
                  you have had with

                  either assigning or being assigned to memorize early
                  modern British poetry,

                  Milton or other.


                  I would appreciate it if you could respond off-list to
                  any or all of these


                  € What specific pomes did you memorize / do you

                  * were you given / do you give any written
                  instructions in coordination with

                  the assignment?

                  € were you given / do you give a grading rubric?

                  € was / is the assignment early or late in the term,
                  or does it not matter

                  for you?

                  € how did / does delivery of the recitation work? In
                  class, in your office,

                  at a public event?

                  € any neat or funny anecdotes?


                  I memorized poetry in high school and college, then
                  have elected to memorize

                  for my graduate qualifying exams and have memorized a
                  14-21 line snippet

                  nearly every semester since becoming a faculty member
                  12 years ago. I assign

                  memorization and recitation, usually with first
                  recitations in class and

                  final recitations at a low-key campus, public events.
                  I'm considering

                  extending the assignment to my graduate courses.


                  Many, thanks.




                  Angelica Duran

                  Associate Professor, English and Comparative

                  Director, Religious Studies Program

                  Purdue University

                  500 Oval Drive / Heavilon Hall

                  West Lafayette, Indiana 47907


                  <duran0 at purdue.edu>







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