In one of Miss Mason’s books she talks about the value of having the children look long upon a picture or a particular vista while out on a nature walk, and memorize it so they can close their eyes and still envision that scene well into the twilight of their adult years. She explains what a precious gift this is, and how much such mind pictures can enrich our lives and give us a storehouse of treasures to draw upon later in life.
She also felt that there was much value in being able to picture great works of art in one’s mind, a picture gallery of the mind.
Poetry, I think, is much the same- memorizing poetry gives one a storehouse of little gems that will bring great pleasure on many occasions in later years, without having to resort always to an external source.
There is some added delight and spice in watching a flock of geese flying south for the winter, and being able to say, “Something told the Wild Geese it was time to fly…’ and hearing your child complete your quote with “Summer sun was on their wings, winter in their cry.”
The ocean is a lovely sight to see, but I have always felt the sight is enriched if while looking at it certain lines come to mind (I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky….).
I also have found it much more effective sometimes to give gentle reminders of certain of life’s lessons by quoting poetry which is familiar to my young people. A child who is sitting around longing for this or that good thing to just come to him may be more likely to receive the lesson he needs to hear if it’s wrapped up in poetry (“If you want any breakfast, you must come here and scratch! )
And how could one really know the joy of visiting woods in bloom without this poem to complete the experience?
LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
And since to look at things in bloom Fifty springs are little room, About the woodlands I will go To see the cherry hung with snow.
Or, as Miss Mason said, “…the magic of poetry makes knowledge vital, and children and grown-ups quote a verse which shall add blackness to the ashbud, tender wonder to that “flower in the crannied wall,” a thrill to the song of the lark.”
Perhaps, too, if we understand poetry as Miss Mason understood it, we can better agree with her on the value of memorizing poetry. Miss Mason says that it’s important we put children in touch with
“the best thoughts of the best minds taking form as literature, and at its highest as poetry…”
“Memorising.Recitation and committing to memory are not necessarily the same thing, and it is well to store a child’s memory with a good deal of poetry,
… Let the child lie fallow till he is six, and then, in this matter of memorising, as in others, attempt only a little, and let the poems the child learns be simple and within the range of his own thought and imagination. At the same time, when there is so much noble poetry within a child’s compass, the pity of it, that he should be allowed to learn twaddle!
——– On the value and purpose of poetry: “…to accustom him to the delicate rendering of shades of meaning, and especially to make him aware that words are beautiful in themselves, that they are a source of pleasure, and are worthy of our honour; and that a beautiful word deserves to be beautifully said, with a certain roundness of tone and precision of utterance.”
——— Heroic Poetry Inspires to Noble Living — “To set forth, as only art can, the beauty and the joy of living, the beauty and the blessedness of death, the glory of battle and adventure, the nobility of devotion — to a cause, an ideal, a passion even — the dignity of resistance, the sacred quality of patriotism, that is my ambition here,” says the editor of Lyra Heroica in his preface. We all feel that some such expression of the ‘simpler sentiments; more elemental emotions’ should be freely used in the education of children — that, in fact, heroic poetry contains such inspiration to noble living as is hardly to be found elsewhere; and also we are aware that it is only in the youth of peoples that these elemental emotions find free expression in song.
————–] It is only in so far as Knowledge is dear to us and delights us for herself that she yields us lifelong joy and contentment. He who delights in her, not for the sake of showing off, and not for the sake of excelling others, but just because she is so worthy to be loved, cannot be unhappy. He says, ‘My mind to me a kingdom is’ — and, however unsatisfactory things are in his outer life, he retires into that kingdom and is entertained and delighted by the curious, beautiful, and wonderful things he has stored within. [which would include memorised poems] Vol 4 pg 79
————-There is no nice shade of conduct which is not described or exemplified in the vast treasure-house of literature. History and biography are full of instruction in righteousness; but what is properly called literature, that is, poetry, essays, the drama, and novels, is perhaps the most useful for our moral instruction, because the authors bring their insight to bear in a way they would hesitate to employ when writing about actual persons. …The Poet and the Essayist are our Teachers. — A child gets moral notions from the fairy-tales he delights in, as do his elders from tale and verse. So nice a critic as Matthew Arnold tells us that poetry is a criticism of life; so it is, both a criticism and an inspiration; and most of us carry in our minds tags of verse which shape our conduct more than we know;
“Wisdom is ofttimes nearer when we stoop Than when we soar.” 1
“The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hooks of steel.”
A thousand thoughts that burn come to us on the wings of verse; and, conceive how our lives would be impoverished were we to awake one day and find that the Psalms had disappeared from the world and from the thoughts of men!
Literature is full of teaching, by precept and example, concerning the management of our physical nature. I shall offer a lesson here and there by way of sample, but no doubt the reader will think of many better teachings; and that is as it should be; the way such teaching should come to us is, here a little and there a little, incidentally, from books which we read for the interest of the story, the beauty of the poem, or the grace of the writing. Vol 4
———————————— XII SOME INSTRUCTORS OF CONSCIENCE: POETRY, NOVELS, ESSAYS Poetry. — Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers. To know about such a poet and his works may be interesting, as it is to know about repoussé work; but in the latter case we must know how to use the tools before we get joy and service out of the art. Poetry, too, supplies us with tools for the modelling of our lives, and the use of these we must get at for ourselves. The line that strikes us as we read, that recurs, that we murmur over at odd moments — this is the line that influences our living, if it speak only — “Of old, unhappy, far-off things, And battles long ago.” A couplet such as this, though it appear to carry no moral weight, instructs our conscience more effectually than many wise saws. As we ‘inwardly digest,’ reverence comes to us unawares, gentleness, a wistful tenderness towards the past, a sense of continuance, and of a part to play that shall not be loud and discordant, but of a piece with the whole. This is one of the ‘lessons never learned in schools’ which comes to each of us only as we discover it for ourselves. Many have a favourite poet for a year or two, to be discarded for another and another. Some are happy enough to find the poet of their lifetime in Spenser, Wordsworth, Browning, for example; but, whether it be for a year or a life, let us mark as we read, let us learn and inwardly digest. Note how good this last word is. What we digest we assimilate, take into ourselves, so that it is part and parcel of us, and no longer separable. Vol 4 pg 72
———— in quoting from a particular poem, Miss Mason says, “:” — the youth who carries about with him such melodious cadences will not readily be taken with tinsel. …Wordsworth …almost more than any other English poet of the last century, has proved himself a power, and a power for good, making for whatever is true, pure, simple, teachable; for what is supersensuous, at any rate, if not spiritual. The adventures of Una and her tardy, finally victorious knight offer great food for the imagination, lofty teaching, and fine culture of the poetic sense. It is a misfortune to grow up without having read and dreamt over the Faerie Queene. There is no space to glance at even the few poets each of whom should have his share in the work of cultivating the mind. After the ploughing and harrowing, the seed will be appropriated by a process of natural selection; this poet will draw disciples here, that, elsewhere; but it is the part of parents to bring the minds of their children under the influence of the highest, purest poetic thought we have. ———————
This education of the feelings, moral education, is too delicate and personal a matter for a teacher to undertake trusting to his own resources. Children are not to be fed morally like young pigeons with predigested food. They must pick and eat for themselves and they do so from the conduct of others which they hear of or perceive. But they want a great quantity of the sort of food whose issue is conduct, and that is why poetry, history, romance, geography, travel, biography, science and sums must all be pressed into service. No one can tell what particular morsel a child will select for his sustenance.
——- . A point which I should like to bring before the reader is the peculiar part which poetry plays in making us aware of this thought of the ages, including our own. Every age, every epoch, has its poetic aspect, its quintessence, as it were, and happy the people who have a Shakespeare, a Dante, a Milton, a Burns, to gather up and preserve its meaning as a world possession.
——————– Men and their motives, the historical sequence of events, principles for the conduct of life, in fact, practical philosophy, is what the emergencies of the times require us to possess, and to be able to communicate. These things are …the gathered harvests of many seasons’ sowing of poetry, literature, history.
But that was Charlotte, and she was a Victorian, and memorizing poetry is so old-fashioned.
I discovered an interesting article on the topic here: http://www.city-journal.org/html/14_3_defense_memorization.html Excerpt:
“In every epoch of Western history we find educators insisting that their pupils serve an apprenticeship in the work of masters of poetry and rhetoric. Saint Augustine, as a schoolboy in North Africa in the fourth century, studied only a very few Latin classics in school, principally Virgil’s Aeneid, great chunks of which he learned by heart. But within its “narrow limits,” the historian Peter Brown wrote in his life of the saint, the education the young Augustine received was “perfectionist.” “Every word, every turn of phrase of these few classics,” Brown observed, “was significant and the student saw this.” The “aim was to measure up to the timeless perfection of the ancient classic….”
…No less important, memorizing poetry turns on kids’ language capability. It not only teaches them to articulate English words; it heightens their feel for the intricacies and complexities of the English languagean indispensable attainment if they are to go on to speak, write, and read English with ease. Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, argues that memorization “builds into children’s minds an ability to use complex English syntax.” The student “who memorizes poetry will internalize” the “rhythmic, beautiful patterns” of the English language. These patterns then become “part of the student’s `language store,’ those wells that we all use every day in writing and speaking.” Without memorization, the student’s “language store,” Bauer says, will be limited: memorization stocks “the language store with a whole new set of language patterns.””
Both memorized poetry and memorized Bible passages can become part of your family’s heiritage, a gathered harvest stored for future use.