A Lost Eloquence

In high school, I took an AP Literature course with a seasoned teacher who seemed to be from another century. The infamous Mr. Brown supposedly made his own liquor out of chewed, fermented fruit, and had had throat cancer from his distant marijuana smoking days. Mr. Brown always made assertions which, to be honest, still have questionable validity.

I distinctly remember the first day of his class, before I knew the legend of old Mr. Brown. As we sat anxiously watching him in the front of the room, he sipped his coffee (which had to be cold… it was the last period of the day) and was reading the New York Times. Finally, he rose and passed out an article, which we were instructed to silently read. Entitled A Lost Eloquence, the article explained the beauty and benefits to memorizing poems and passages.

Mr. Brown went on to explain that the memory is like a muscle; it gets bigger and easier to use when it is worked. I basically tuned him out for the rest of that lesson, consumed with the fear of reciting poetry to the class. However, I am still seeing the benefits today, if he was telling the truth, that is. After a full year of memorizing poems over a hundred lines long, such as A Visit from St. Nicholas, I can honestly say I can remember full sentences from lectures or visually photograph a page of notes.

Am I suggesting poem memorization as a pass time? Not quite. However, through the struggles of memorization, bear in mind that once the memory gets through that initial stage of “soreness”, it will get easier and stronger. If Mr. Brown was telling the truth…

I do remember Mr. Brown adding one anecdote to that day’s class. He said he found poem memorization most useful when he was lonely. When he was 21 and traversing the Alps, or when he was 30 and in a Peruvian jungle, he always had a book of poems securely fastened in his mind. When he felt alone, he could always make company out of Edgar (Allen Poe), Emily (Dickinson), and Walt (Whitman).

Quite an interesting concept.


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