Mnemonic Monday 3: So We’ll Go No More a Roving

Previously On:
“Ulysses,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

I’m happy to report that Tennyson’s “Ulysses” is mostly in my head. More or less. Let’s not discuss my proficiency here. On the upside, “As I Walked Out One Evening” has held up for the duration.

To balance my previous overreach with an underreach, I’ve chosen a short poem by Lord Byron which I was able to [mostly] memorize the first time I wrote it out longhand:

So We’ll Go No More a Roving by Lord Byron (George Gordon)

So we’ll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Thought the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

The trickiest part is remembering the “yet” in the penultimate line. My brain’s autopilot likes to jump back to the titular opening line here. Ta-da.

Look, it’s a snow day. How hard do you want me to work?

And here’s an excellent reading by Tom Hiddleston, whose smooth voice treats the second stanza very kindly:

Mnemonic Monday 2: Ulysses

Previously On:
“As I Walked Out One Evening,” by W. H. Auden

I chose Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” to memorize because I think the end is THE GREATEST bit of poetry in the English language. I also thought the calm tone, the wondrous there-may-not-be-much-time-to-us-but-we-can-still-do-stuff tone would be a nice counter to my carpe diem overload.

I learned two things immediately:
1) Memorizing “As I Walked Out” was made easy via Tom Hiddleston’s voice, not through any facility with verse. I listened to those dulcet tones over and over until they sank into my synapses. I have yet to find a beautifully read “Ulysses” and it’s harder to compress lines in my head from the page. Would it be weird if I tweeted at Mr. Hiddleston to ask for more poetry? New Plan: Write better (and faster) to land a book deal. Then, he could star in something I’d written and, while he was chatting me up for intel on his chatacter, I could say: “Hang on, will you be a dear and read this?”*

2) Rhyming poems aren’t just a little easier, they’re a lot easier.

As a result, “Ulysses” is not fully in my head. I read through it every other day and while most lines are there, the transitions are not. I can get through it only with prompting and wild gesticulations. I’m just posting an update so no one thinks I’ve forgotten my latest venture and am already slipping in the new year.

I plan to always include a copy of the relevant poem in each of these posts, but for “Ulysses,” I’m going to type it in manually to get as much interaction with the text as possible.

“Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me,
I cannot rest from travel. I will drink
Life to the lees. All time I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known,—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch where-through
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads,—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,—
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Note: When this gets quoted in movies (e.g. Skyfall), the Achilles bit is often left out. Good luck remembering it! That said, Dame Judi Dench’s abridged version is suitably epic.

Next week: Something short.

*If I ever do get super famous and meet Tom Hiddleston, I’ll feel very embarrassed to have written this.




Mnemonic Monday 1: As I Walked Out One Evening

Tom Hiddleston’s rendition is a thing of beauty (scroll down for it), but his voice alone is not what convinced me that Auden’s “As I Walked Out One Evening” needed to be the first poem I commit to memory. Poems with a narrative structure are easier to memorize than those that are one long description (e.g., Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard). “As I Walked Out” has enough poetic language about love to feel fragile, enough talk of time to feel weighty, and enough abstract lines for well-spaced mental hooks.

I found I wasn’t able to recall the poem in its entirety until I stopped thinking of it as  “this line, then this line, then this line.” Instead, it helped to follow the twists and turns from love, to time, to death, and so on. Lines that seemed like background filler on the page came to mean more when I needed to focus on them to hold them in my memory, e.g., “Into many a green valley/ Drifts the appalling snow”.

I was fortunate to have a couple people quiz me on the poem as I learned it—not only because it’s an easy quiz to ask someone to follow along with a print copy while reciting, but because almost everyone comes up with better mnemonics than I do:

Me: And something something brimming river.
Him: Are you kidding me?
Me: What?
Him: You can’t remember ‘down by the river’ as in ‘living in a van [arm motions] DOWN BY THE RIVER’
Me: Oh my god.
And that’s how I got over the second-stanza hurdle.

If you’re not familiar:
down by the river gif

On day four, I had my first successful run-though entirely from memory. It happened in the shower; though I couldn’t immediately check myself, I knew I’d gotten it. The sensation was exactly the same as earning a good score at school, except my recitations aren’t graded and no one is nearly so excited about them as I am.

Real Life Dialogue:
Them: Why are you memorizing poetry? Is this, like, a party trick?
Me: It can’t be, because no one wants to hear me recite poetry at a party. Or anywhere else.

On day five, I had a pile of laundry to fold and amused myself by working on my delivery. The trouble with rhyming poems is that they’re super easy to remember if you stress the rhyming words as a reminder of where a line is going, but this style can make even the greatest poems sound sing-song-y and childlike. If you want a recitation to sound half-pleasant, you need to know it cold to bend and shape as needed.

If you’d like to play along at home, here is Auden’s wondrous poem in its entirety.

“As I Walked Out One Evening”

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,
And 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.

If you’d like to hear this read in Tom Hiddleston’s golden voice with his brilliant timing:

Next Up: “Ulysses” by Lord Tennyson



Mnemonic Monday!

Mnemonic Monday*


I’m a terrible poet. So this isn’t about my poetry. I recently found an article about the value of memorizing verse. Being impressionable and in love with language, I’m now fully convinced of poetry’s merit and would like some in my head for quiet times. In high school, I memorized Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” and Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning,” because I enjoyed the sound of so much beautiful language in my head. Sadly, all three are down to fragments in my mind (alongside the Gettysburg Address), but some effort will bring them back.

The plan is to choose a new poem every two weeks (roughly every other Monday). I can’t know how long each will stay in my head, especially as they pile up, but even if I only remember my favorite snippets a year from now, that’s still something. The plan is to also pick poems short enough to recite in 5 minutes or less. At this length, they’ll be easy to turn over and review in my head.

First up: “As I Walked Out One Evening” by W. H. Auden

P.S. Happy Monday!

*This isn’t a true alliteration as the “M” is silent in “Mnemonic,” but I like the look of it nonetheless.