Continuing this morning with the fascinating (if exhausting) exercise of memorizing poetry, using age-old memory techniques outlined by Joshua Foer in his new book, MOONWALKING WITh EINSTEIN. The preliminary results have been quite amazing to me. (Granted, I’ve chosen poems with which I am extremely familiar (and tried to learn before.) Even so, since yesterday I’ve gotten down Andrew Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress”, T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, and W.H. Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening”. (The Auden and the Eliot are long!)
Foer’s classic mnemonic techniques–creating some kind of memory palace or locus, and populating it with visual images or cues to remind you of lines and segues–is tiring, for me at least. I have to really think hard as I try to learn the lines rather than just repeat them On the other hand, once that extra mental activity is expended, the work of memorizing is incredibly shortened.
And it is quite interesting to watch one’s head strain to come up with mnemonics. I could only learn the Auden this morning by hopscotching up the front walkway of my childhood home (jumping over China and Africa shaking hands as they were doused by rivers and salmon, noticing rabbits bedecked with flowers and numbers around the bushes by my childhood front door, a naked judge curled up in my old front closet (under the coats and next to a ghastly Father Time). As the poem continued, my mother lay, arm over head, on our deep green couch, which quickly cratered into a valley filled with some powder that looked suspiciously like cocaine. I ended up with toy cars in our old moveable dishwasher, looking out the window at the man who had once been our red-faced and very bow-legged neighbor, adjusting the sprinkler by his hedge.
Here’s the real poem:
As I Walked Out One Evening
by W. H. Auden
As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.
‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’
But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.
‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.
‘O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.
‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.
‘O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.
‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.’
It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.