Read: Part of RoadSense for Drivers: BC's Safe Driving Guide (in preparation for taking the test to get my British Columbia driver's license); Milton's sonnet "On His Blindness" (see below)
Listened to: More Italian vocabulary; Mendelssohn's String Symphony No. 8 in D (a version transcribed for winds), in streaming audio over KING-FM, Seattle's 24-hour classical music station; I'm listening to the latter from up in Vancouver as I type this (oh, the wonders of the Internet!)
Today I picked up and leafed through my copy of Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize (edited by John Hollander), looking for a poem to work on memorizing. My mother grew up in an era where every schoolchild was required to memorize lots of poetry, and she sure did! I missed out on that, so I've been trying to make up for lost time. I selected Milton's "On His Blindness," which was already quite familiar to me, but I'd never gotten it down by heart. After an hour working on it in the car on the drive up to Vancouver today (before switching on the Italian lessons CD), I pretty much have got it. (Don't tell the BC driver's licensing folks that I was reading a book of poetry -- albeit only one line at a time, and with very infrequent glances -- while driving!!)
There are so many benefits to memorizing poetry. It becomes a part of you and shapes your appreciation of other poems. It nourishes your imagination and helps inspire your own poetry (or other art form). It can become part of your prayer language, just as memorized hymns can be (and are for me in a big way); hymns are, after all, a special kind of poetry. When, in your waning years, you begin to lose your short-term memory, the poems and songs and Scripture you've memorized will be some of the last things to go (along with childhood memories; a great argument for filling up a child's memory bank with wonderful experiences to keep her in happy reverie in her senescence).
Of course, as with any anthology, Committed to Memory is one particular person's (or committee's) idea of what are the "best" poems to memorize. I have begun making my own anthologies of poems and things, because others' collections never quite cut it as my own definitive list. However, I find it helpful to use others' canons of "great books" or "must-have classical recordings" as a jumping off point for making my own lists. I probably have about two dozen books of the "list of books" genre, including The NY Public Library's Books of the Century, Clifton Fadiman's The Lifetime Reading Plan, etc.
So... Do you memorize poetry? What are some poems you would put on your own "best poems to memorize" list? Why? What makes a poem good to memorize? I have some incipient thoughts on this, but will wait to develop them further and see what others write before posting them. I will at least tantalize you with a few of the poems I've got so far in my personal anthology of poems to memorize. All but the last two are commonly anthologized and probably frequently memorized, but I'm glad to have found a couple that make my own list unique.
"Love (III)" (Herbert)
"God's Grandeur" and "Pied Beauty" (Hopkins)
"Fire and Ice," "The Road Not Taken" and "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" (Frost)
"The Apologist's Evening Prayer" (C.S. Lewis)
"Nativity" (R.S. Thomas)