It used to be a snap to memorize poetry: read, look away, and recite. I would do this a few times…and the job was done. I can still recite those poems I chose to (or was forced to) memorize 50+ years ago: “The Children’s Hour,” “Jabberwocky,” “Little Orphan Annie,” “You are Old Father William,” and, of course, the prologue to “Canterbury Tales.”
It’s far more challenging for most of us sixty somethings to memorize a poem or passage today, but why would we want to, anyway, with the iPhone and Google at the ready?
According to researchers from the National Institute on Health and Aging, memorizing helps maintain higher cognitive functioning and everyday skills. “Practicing memorization allows …adults to delay typical cognitive decline by seven to 14 years.” Memorizing improves “neural plasticity “and “hippocampal function.” In other words, memorizing poetry is sort of like a work- out for the brain, giving it the power to retain more information.
Scientific, self-improvement reasons aside, I find there is something very satisfying about having these poems etched so deeply in my brain that they have become part of me. I like being able to call them up whenever I want. They sort of belong to me.
So how to help your aging brain as it struggles to memorize inspiring verse? Well, there’s a free app for that! It’s called Poems by Heart from Penguin Classics. It uses a brain-training technique that makes memorizing a game. There’s a good selection of poems from classic authors that are easy, medium and hard to memorize. There are a few poems that are free and others that can be purchased. The app works by moving line by line and prompting you to fill in missing words. It repeats this process five times, each version more difficult than the last. When you have the poem down you’re prompted to recite it by heart. A little recording studio pops up. You can even send your recitation to friends. Here’s the latest poem I memorized. I’m not even checking back to check see if I have every word correct.
Moonlight by Sarah Teasdale
It will not hurt me when I am old
The rising tide where moonlight burn
Will sting me like silver snakes
The years will make me sad and cold It is the happy heart that breaks.
The heart asks more than life can give
When that is learned than all is learned
The waves break fold on jeweled fold
Beauty itself is fugitive
It will not hurt me when I am old.
Sort of a depressing poem but it was painless to memorize- like putting pieces of a puzzle together and my brain already seems tougher and more cooperative!