Something to read
This started as a comment at Stay of Execution, but it got a little out of hand, so I’m posting it here instead.
When I was a student of Russian, memorization of poems was encouraged. It’s common in the study of Russian literature, both inside and outside Russia, apparently. As one of my professors put it, “When you memorize poetry you always have something to read on the train.” I spent at least one track meet (at Trinity, in the rain, otherwise memorable mostly because we got the van stuck) with Akhmatova’s “Lot’s Wife” cycling in my head. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to run twelve and a half laps thinking about “And the righteous one walked in the footsteps of the messenger of God,” but it might reduce one’s confidence in passing the pacemaker, and certainly raises some concerns about checking one’s heels for pursuers.
When I took 19th c. Russian Poetry with Brodsky, he insisted on us memorizing a poem (which he assigned) for each class. The first task for each class was writing the poem of the day and handing it in; he was draconian in his grading, knocking points off for missing or misplaced commas.
Here’s the catch: we weren’t all Russian language students in that class. And despite Brodsky’s own linguistic situation, he refused to assign Russian poems to be memorized in English translation. So we memorized poems in English. A lot of Frost. Some Auden. Some Houseman. Some Burns. Despite the obvious connections, not a whole lot of Dickinson, but a little.
Not much of it has stuck with me, though enough to drift to the surface when prompted. Perhaps I will find the list somewhere and post it.
Update: Into the archives. A quick curriculum of English poetry for memorizing, by a Russian (and English) poet, from my notes. I may be missing some.
- “Acquainted with the night”
- “Desert places”
- “Design” (“…and see if you can sleep well.”)
- “Provide, Provide”
- “Planting a wood”
- “Neither out far nor in deep”
- “The gift outright”
- “Stars, I have seen them fall”
- “Two look at two”
- “Fire and ice”
- “The middle of the road”
- “Darkling thrush”
- “As I walked out one evening”
- “O what is that sound which thrills the ear”
- “Look, stranger, at this island now”
- “Timor mortis”
- “Sir Patrick Spens” (Eek, I should know who this is. Browning?)
Now playing: My Son from Under The Big Top by Rosemary Caine