We live in a world where everything is a click away and therefore there’s no need to learn anything off by heart any longer. Bu what does that do to, for want of a better phrase, let’s call our ‘mental furniture’? The ideas, images, thoughts, memories that form the backdrop and bedrock of our minds. If all that’s there are the burned-in images from films, or burnt-out memories of excess or sadness, then that doesn’t give us much to fall back on should we ever be reduced to our own devices. Let’s pray we never find ourselves kidnapped or held in solitary confinement, but even in the everyday isolation of travelling on the tube, or daydreaming, or simply allowing the froth of the day’s events to settle, surely such events would proceed better in a mind stocked with beautiful, deep, rhythmical words than stuffed full of screaming headlines.
So, I’ve decided to try and stock my mind with something that’s both defiantly pointless in today’s culture, and one of the few things that actually matters: poems. I’m going to learn a poem a week; fix it firmly in memory and make it an integral part of my mental furniture.
I started with Tennyson’s The Eagle – because it’s dramatic, intense and very short (six lines), and I didn’t know how well my middle-aged brain could handle memorizing things. The short answer: it was a struggle! But I got there, and now I’ve moved on to the Windhover, by Gerald Manley Hopkins. Learning it off by heart has brought new depths to what I already thought was a poem more densely textured than sculpted diamond. And, though written over a century ago, it still reads as more modern than anything written in the 20th century. Was Hopkins, in fact, the last poet?
Anyway, any suggestions for future poems to learn? I’d be interested in any ideas.