I am a terrible memorizer. Memorization is an analytical skill, a counter-intuitive trait to this Random Abstract Global thinker. However, next to trying to remember favorite Scriptures, which I’ve gotten mostly by osmosis lo, these 40 plus years, I do want to get some poetry in my memory banks. As C.S. Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” (Thanks to Johnny Anomaly at Creative Coping Podcast for that quote.)
So off we go; there are so many lovely poems to memorize.
Poem Number One-The Singing Bowl, Malcolm Guite
I began memorizing Malcolm Guite’s The Singing Bowl last March after a special retreat where God gave me a singing bowl as a metaphor for the weekend’s experience. In an effort to remind myself often of what God had done, I committed to the process, which I discovered is very doable if the words rhyme. Meter helps, as well.
Guite’s poem is a sonnet–14 lines written in iambic pentameter, with alternating end rhymes. What is iambic pentameter you ask? For those of us not steeped in Shakespeare’s work, let’s thank Google.
“Iambic pentameter is line of verse with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable.”
Read The Singing Bowl and you’ll see what I mean.
Singing Bowl Malcolm Guite
Begin the song exactly where you are,
Remain within the world of which you’re made.
Call nothing common in the earth or air,
Accept it all and let it be for good.
Start with the very breath you breathe in now,
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood
And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time.
Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.
Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
Is richness rising out of emptiness,
And timelessness resounding into time.
And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.
The remarkable thing to me about having this poem in my bones is that I can recall it at any time and do what the words say–slow down my breathing and stop and listen, a practice I desperately need these days.
Poem Number Two-The 23rd Psalm, George Herbert
Over the summer I kept hearing different lines from Psalm 23 in various places and finally decided to memorize it. How hard could it be? It’s only six verses. Well.
Verse one is easy, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Everybody knows that one. I repeated the next lines rather haltingly from what I could recollect but floundered after verse 3.
Then I read George Herbert’s rendering of the 23rd Psalm. Or, as he wrote it, Psalme 23. Herbert was a cleric and poet who wrote in the 1600’s and while his language is full of very old English phrases, the words are incredibly rich. I especially was pleased to find the six verses of this Psalm written in rhyme and they are now in a little plastic envelope sitting on my kitchen windowsill. The theory is I’ll memorize the psalm/poem while I’m doing dishes. So far I’ve got the first two verses down, but I am in no rush (there are always dishes to wash.)
Maybe you’d like to read/memorize it, too?
The 23d Psalm George Herbert
The God of love my shepherd is,
And He that does me feed:
While He is mine, and I am His,
What can I want or need?
He leads me to the tender grass,
Where I both feed and rest;
Then to the streams that gently pass:
In both I have the best.
Or if I stray, He does convert
And bring my mind in frame:
And all this not for my desert*
But for His holy name.
Yea, in death’s shady black abode
Well may I walk, not fear:
For You are with me; and Your rod
To guide, Your staff to bear.
Nay, you do make me sit and dine,
Ev’n in my enemies’ sight:
My head with oil, my cup with wine
Runs over day and night.
Surely Your sweet and wondrous love
Shall measure all my days;
And as it never shall remove,
So neither shall my praise.
* desert. Dessert; what one deserves
Poem Number Three-Barter, Sara Teasdale
The folks at Tweetspeak Poetry, founded by poet and editor L.L. Barkat, are committed to keeping poetry alive in the public square. Tweetspeak began with an impromptu Twitter party where all the participants chimed in and voila, Tweetspeak was born. I wrote about my experience with Tweetspeak and some of their mischief here.
Barkat and her team are committed to folks reading and memorizing poetry and to that end they recently included the poem Barter by Sara Teasdale in their offerings to patrons and readers alike. I’m up for the challenge as well, as I enjoy the content of this poem very much–life and loveliness and all–plus, it rhymes!
Here’s what’s printed out and sitting on my desk…. I’ve got the first stanza down. Baby steps.
Barter Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)
Find a simple poem you like, rhyming or otherwise, and add it to your memory banks. Then tell me, what are you reading these days? I’d love to hear in the Comments.