A pink taxi

A pink taxi

January 27, 2011

Memorizing 19th Century Poetry

My son had  less than a week to retain the four stanzas of a 19th century French sonata. After working on it for quite some time, he came to me and proudly said: "I never thought I could memorize it, and look I almost have."

Many parents would not understand why French academia promotes memorizing a 19th century poem,written in old French, and by a second tier poet to boot! This was not a classic piece by Victor Hugo. However, I do see the benefits inherent to such a task.

When you memorize any type of text, you begin to have reverence towards language, which you can  "store in your mind in order to one day emulate it",  which is word for word what I told my ten year old son. Poetic imagery will always resurface one day. My sister, a talented poet, wrote a poem in English called "The Weeping Willows". This tree happened to have a central position in the 19th century poem he was learning. My sister may have come across this poem or another one and  subconsciously stored the imagery. Once poems are studied and memorized, they certainly  leave an imprint and can resurface in the unconscious. My son didn't know what a weeping willow was. In our day in age, we point to stronger, more majestic trees.

I had to show him a photograph and I will certainly point them out tom him this summer in Europe, now that he has studied this poem.

19th century poetry introduces you from a young age to feelings of melancholy and spleen that are frowned upon in our happy-go-lucky, optimistic millennium.  Furthermore, 19th century poems are replete with rich sentence structures. They are the ideal way to introduce children to a more complex sentence: I pointed out to him that each stanza of four verses is a single sentence. I showed him how to read it, how to stop at each punctuation.When you add the new vocabulary learnt through these poems, the experience is definitely a pedagogical one.

Memorizing is like making puzzles: you introduce each piece word by word into your brain, you think about them, and then you fit them into a sequence of words that flow beautifully. Studying a language piece by piece is gratifying and  also happens to be an excellent mental exercise

Poetry is everywhere. Whether in a novel, a newspaper, or a rap song. The French have a common knowledge base and the references are understood amongst each other. As aspiring writers, we try not to use "cliches" (yet another French word) but collecting cliches in our memory is a good point of reference. This is how language is celebrated and is used as an artistic tool.

I also tend to feel that art appreciation starts with poetry. I am sure my son will one day look for the imagery of a lover lost by the side of the lake in a Watteau or a Boucher painting, both 18th century painters. He may even find the essence of that romanticism, distilled to its purest form, in a Kandinsky or a Leger!

1 comment:

  1. Memorizing religious verses,poetry or a nursery song stays with you for ever.Some people are gifted with memory skills,that they can recite Arabic poetry,English prose or French songs with ease.Average kids find it hard a task,and tend to resist the excersise.But once they get the ball rolling,they find out later that it is very helpful to sharpen the memory faculty for other tasks in life.