Posted tagged ‘Book on Memory’

Drawing On Memory (“Moonwalking With Einstein” On the Way “To His Coy Mistress”) )

May 25, 2011

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I just finished this morning Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. This wonderful book details Foer’s journey from journalist covering a U.S. memory championship competition to competitor and actual winner of the same U.S. memory championship one year later.

Foer, both “mental athelete” and terrific writer, not only describes his training for the memory championship and the crazed and blinkered world of competitive mnemonists, but also explores the historical place of memory as archiving and creative tool, and also (to the extent known) its scientific place in our personalities and brains.

This post is not intended as a review, but to mention that the book has set me off on a project of memorizing poetry.

Unfortunately, memorizing poetry is slightly less amenable to the memory tricks detailed by Foer. This, it seems to me, is because a lot of these tricks involve the use of a “memory palace” or locus, and odd visual cues and puns placed about this memory palace. These tricks are frankly not that easy for a newcomer (who is also becoming an oldtimer), but they can be especially difficult to use for poems because the memorable visual cues sometimes run directly counter to the sense of the poem.

The tricks do work though, and are especially useful for lines or segues that are hard to keep in mind.

I started this morning with two poems I already know well – To his Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell, and The Love Song of J. Alfred Profrock by T.S. Eliot. The tricks worked much better with the Marvell, maybe because coming up with images for things like “vegetable love” and (as seen above) “youthful Hue” seemed much less irreverant than mucking about with Eliot.

The picture above includes some of the images I used to keep the last stanza of the poem in mind. My memory place was my backyard, my youthful Hugh a guy I once knew (who sat in a pear tree in my yard ), the torn “Lucky Strikes” were my visual attempt to keep torn”rough strife” in mind. Treasure substituted for pleasure. (Yes, I know it sounds crazy–but it worked!)

To His Coy Mistress
by Andrew Marvell
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart;
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

   But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

   Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.