Does anyone else remember “memory lines” from high school and before? In English classes, we chose the poems to memorize, up to an assigned number of lines. In social studies, we memorized the opening of the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the United States Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address. Having such bounty at my mental fingertips is a gift, for instance when I’m in the dentist’s chair wanting something to focus the mind.
Memorization went out of fashion years ago. Educators argued that it stifled creativity or analytical reasoning. Now people ask, why remember anything when you can look it up on your phone? I submit that the process of memorization exercises mental muscles, so to speak. It promotes gray matter and neuroplasticity. Creative connections draw on a supply of remembered material to connect.
When my late mother-in-law could no longer carry on a conversation, she loved to join in reciting Christopher Robin poems familiar since childhood. In a hopefully distant future, I’d like to think snippets of memorized poetry will still be with me after all else fades into oblivion.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.