I’ve posted about the uses of memorization before, not least because when done well it involves a more practical and useful mode of interpretation than, say, a psychoanalytic one does. Here’s Mark Bauerlein laying out some of the other benefits of rote memorization of verse:

In a Digital Age, it goes, students demand more interactivity, more initiative and creativity in the learning process. What could be worse than memorizing others’ words?

The problem with this outlook is that it misconstrues the memorization of verse (or any other kind of eloquence) as a mechanical procedure. It casts memory and response as robotic, a Gradgrind oppression.

Consider, however, what goes into the process, and what benefits derive from it.

1. Memory is a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. The more you practice it, the more tricks and tactics you discover. Memory is an art as well as an act, and as with any art form it improves with repetition.

2. Memorization of language slows you down. It makes you pay close attention to the verbal surface, so that you can’t slide past the details. Figures of speech, parentheses, and punctuation demand notice. The eye and ear have to sharpen. In a world of accelerating reading, writing, speaking, and listening, that slow reading workout becomes all the more important.

3. It builds vocabulary. If you don’t know what words mean, you can’t remember and recite them effectively.

4. It accustoms students to public speaking, which so many of them regard with fear and trembling.

5. It supplies young people a reservoir of better utterances. A little exposure to the words of Dickinson, Wordsworth, and the rest grants them a healthy alternative to the puerile patter of social networking.

6. Finally, it forces young people out of themselves, if only for a moment. To grasp the voice of the poem, they have to throw themselves into the experience of the speaker. With so much of digital youth culture fostering self-involvement and self-display, a little imagination of other selves far from their own condition helps curb the narcissism.

#6 may be a bit of wishful thinking, but #1-5 are dead on.

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