The importance of memorization:

I wish that my teachers had told me to memorize more things in my youth. Actually, that’s a lie. I memorized fifty Bible verses a quarter for 6 years.

Unfortunately I can’t remember any of them, but that’s besides the point. I want to memorize things that are relevant to me; poems and lines from books that are important to me. Of course, I have a couple, but wouldn’t it be great to recite a Dickinson poem by heart rather than stumble through the bits and phrases that you do remember? How impressive! I was reminded of this fact by a new friend of mine; Christian, who recited an entire Kafka poem in German this past weekend. Talk about one-upping someone! So my goal is that in this month I want to memorize a poem, and within the next three months I would love to memorize a poem in French or Spanish. Just so I can be super smart-looking. And also, I’m trying to learn French right now and I’m reviewing my Spanish so as not to waste the three years I spent learning it in high school. You guys need to keep me accountable. Actually, I’m pretty proud of myself for how culturally-forward I’ve been this year; I’ve learned Swing and Blues, and I am in the process of learning Tango this next weekend, and now I’m learning French. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have a workable understanding of that language, and can move on to German, Italian, or Chinese. But anyhow, let’s go into the reasons why memorization is good for us:

Our culture is choking our brains:
We don’t have to memorize anything anymore; we all have WI-fi access almost constantly, smart phones, and smart-ass know-it-all friends. In the time it takes us to ponder a question we already have the answer. But ask me again tomorrow what I looked up today and I will have no idea. Why? Because the ease-of-access we have to information inhibits any necessity for memorizing. And in a very Fahrenheit 451 sort of way, eventually we will lose understanding of all the art, history, and culture that makes us so wonderful as human beings. Could you imagine what would happen if there was some sort of magnetic burst from some far-off star that completely wiped out all phone and internet access? It’s chilling to realize how much we really don’t know.

Because it looks cool:
When you can spout from memory a poem or a passage from a favorite book; it shows that you care about learning and being smart. More than about who is the latest Kim Kardashian or what’s the latest big hit song. It shows that you care about the metaphors and the meaning of life outside of the immediate cultural shock. Learning what a poem means, enough to memorize it, or reciting something from a favorite novel shows that you are appreciative.

Because you’ll have something to do in the bathroom:
Oh God; please don’t be one of the people who plays words with friends in the bathroom. Sometimes we should just unplug and pick our own brains instead of being glued to a screen and an online interaction. Plus that’s just gross (I’m not saying I don’t do it sometimes in very rare emergency occasions, but I would rather read the shampoo bottle; it’s all about the hygiene of having a phone in your hands people) but imagine; during those quiet moments of the day; those significant bits of poetry and novel passages will come back to your mind and give you something to reflect on and grow with; rather than what word uses the letter Q, P, B, and E. You’ll actually have something to show for all your hard work!

Essentially, memorizing a poem or a passage from a novel is a way to cement yourself; if you love something enough to commit it to memory, it obviously says something about who you are as a person; for example, while I love William Blake, I don’t really like Keats or Wordsworth, even if they wrote in the same era. It says something important about who I am as a person, and even if I don’t know what that is personally, my ability to memorize and ponder his verses is special. To take another example, one of my favorite novels is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and even though I haven’t read it in awhile; I love one of the final passages so much that I memorized it. It goes as thus; “There is neither a state of happiness or sadness; only a comparison between the two. Those who have experienced the deepest grief can experience the best joy.” I’ve often reflected on these lines in both happy and hard parts of my life, and it’s helped me grow as a person.

So I commit to you, dear reader; even if it’s only a small passage, to memorize something special and important to you. Not only will other people think you are smart and you’ll have something to do outside of a smart phone, but you’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process.


About Angela

Editor, bookbinder, and writer.

One comment

  1. Good points there! These days the thing to memorise is *where* you can find a certain piece of information; you’re expected to keep up to date with a lot of things, and given how often these “things” (rules, UIs, research) change and develop, it’s pointless to memorise them because they become outdated within days or weeks. Otherwise, it’s also a matter of personality. I regret not having learned this or that poem by heart as a kid, but then I never had that kind of a predisposition (I can retain a poem for as long as I have to, but not beyond). Others simply soak it in and it sticks. Nowadays, I find it most important to memorise whatever I use every day (gain that extra second, instead of having to look it up) or whatever will give me the most pleasure when I think of it …


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