Aids to Memory (part 2)

Aids to Memory, by Rea McCain, 1920, cont. (previously)

Analysis of Aids to Memory

Those characteristics of form or thought which are essential to the composilion as it stands are natural aids to memory. Any chance or accidental points which are selected for emphasis may be called artificial aids to memory.

Natural Aids to Memory

There are three possible natural aids to memory, logical sequence of ideas, rhyme and rhythm. It is impossible to imagine any selection worth memorizing in which none of these is found, but not all occur in equal proportion in every selection.

Rhyme and Rhythm

Read the Seal Lullaby:

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,

And black are the waters that sparkled so green.

The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us

At rest in the hollows that rustle between.

Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow;

Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!

The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,

Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.


The thought analysis is not difficult; the darkness around, the moon over them, the seals in the hollow, the dangers guarded against. The thought, we say, is plain, but, the order is not inevitable, and yet the poem is easy to learn.

Kipling has such mastery of rhythm that the swing of the line carries one on, The rhyme, too, helps. We do not consciously think that pillow follows billow, but the suggestion is made all the same.

Rhythm may be of many kinds. We happen to have taken an example of slow and balanced motion. Quick and broken lines are just as easy to learn.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,

And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;

He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there

But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, Bess, the landlord’s daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Mr. Noyes carries us on rapidly but surely. What is the secret of the aid rhythm is in memorizing  I am not sure, but I suspect it is partly done by the phrasing. In prose we group our words by the thought contained. In the best poetry the rhythm suggests the grouping, and the lazy mind is relieved of part of the burden and seizes upon ready-prepared units.

Thought Sequence

To small children the thought sequence means little more than can be suggested by such questions as, What does he tell about first? What next? Older pupils may realize the inevitable sequence of the different thoughts. This is peculiarly evident in the Concord Hymn.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled tanners stood,

And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;

Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;

And Time the rude bridge has swept

Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,

We set to-day a votive stone;

That memory may her dead redeem,

When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare

To die, and leave their children free,

Bid Time and Nature gently spare The shaft we raise to them and thee. — Emerson

The setting, the deed, the death of the men, the destruction of material surroundings, the reason for the meeting, the purpose of their act, the prayer.

Stripped to this bare outline, the force and clearness of the thought is evident. The Concord Hymn and the Gettysburg Address stand unrivalled for plain dignity of thought and expression.

Artificial Aids to Memory These are so numerous that even to catalogue them is impossible. Moreover, it is a waste of time. Some one suggests that one word be selected from each line and that these be memorized. Great speed and accuracy is announced as the result. It is probable that the poem learned in this way, as a test case, was quickly and success fully handled. Why? Not because of the merit of the method, but because the consciousness that something new was being tried acted as a spur. The mind, alert, went at the matter eagerly. For a device it worked; as a method to be regularly employed, it is plainly only an aggravation of the labor. Wash- Ad- Jeff — so we learned them, and supposed it helped. When I studied kings of England I didn’t try the method. Did you?


TBC  (by the way, Ms McCain wrote this article for use with students in grade five).

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