How Memorizing Poetry Pays Dividends – New York Times

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Anthony Gerace

To the Editor:

Re “Memorize That Poem!,” by Molly Worthen (Sunday Review, Aug. 27):

I can’t believe that young people are going to put down their cellphones, iPads and Nooks to pick up an actual book of poetry to read, no less memorize. It’s not going to happen. That’s like having children today write cursive or learn how to spell: Why should they?

They have Google and spell-check and don’t have to retain any of it! I am frustrated! I don’t say go back to the days when I was in school (I was born in 1937), but some things back then, like memorization, had value.

If young people today can memorize words from their favorite rap artists or singers, why not some Wordsworth, Shakespeare or Robert Frost? Who knows: They might like it!

RUTH L. KRUGMAN, AVON, CONN.

To the Editor:

Memorizing poems of Conrad Aiken and Robert Frost gave me a bit of serenity during the turbulent 1960s in San Francisco. Now, nearly 60 years later, reciting the very same poems provides a modicum of sanity in the turmoil of modern-day America.

WILLIAM A. POLF, PITTSBORO, N.C.

To the Editor:

I was able to witness the profound value of memorizing poetry during the last weeks of my mother’s life. At 93, and suffering from vascular dementia, she found a coherent trans-Atlantic phone conversation difficult, so we recited poetry to each other instead.

I needed the anthology, while she used her memory. Poignantly, some of her last words to me, her voice over the phone shaky but spirited, were from John Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”: “The sedge has withered from the lake, / And no birds sing.”

When I assigned poetry recitation to my reluctant undergraduates, I would tell them of this experience and emphasize that the ability to recall the poem may turn out to be the last corner of their brains to bring them such pleasure and a feeling of accomplishment.

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