Reading Amy Glynn Greacen's post yesterday about memorization reminded me of the pamphlet I picked up at a book sale a few years ago. If you went to public school in New York City during the first half of the last century, you were required to memorize poems if you wanted to advance to the next grade:
Here's the table of contents from 1925:
I bet that if you approach a public school educated Octogenarian, he or she wouldn't hesitate to recite Invictus or Sea Fever or some other verse. One of my cherished memories is of sitting in a Washington, D.C. restaurant with David's mom Anne Lehman, when she was inspired to recite, in her native German, a Schiller poem that she had learned as a girl, before her world was turned upside down by certain unfortunate events that forced her out of her childhood home in Vienna, 1939. David and I and the diners at the nearby tables were rapt and when she finished: applause.
When I was in the third grade, my friend Adina Bloch and I memorized Poe's "Annabel Lee" for show-and- tell. Years later (many years), after hearing Robert Pinsky lecture about the value of memorization, I made a sustained effort to memorize Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey and I got pretty far into it though I abandoned the project when the same lines kept tripping me up. Was there a psychological reason I wonder, for this resistance to certain words or lines?
One must make a commitment to memorize a beloved poem but to succeed means you will have it always, whenever you want or need, wherever you may be. If you were updating those public school memorization requirements, which poems would you include? Would you keep any of the poems from 1925?