Day 7: A Book I Can Recite/ Quote

Although there are books that I have read repeatedly, from which I can quote (or at least paraphrase) bits and pieces, such as Huxley’s Island, Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction, or maybe even Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Henry V, there are none that I can really quote with any degree of respectable accuracy, from memory (ok, maybe with the exception of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs & Ham).

The words that I do tend to internalize, verbatim, tend to come from poetry instead of prose. I can recall with relative ease many of the works by poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Lord Byron, William Carlos Williams, and Percy Shelley. It’s the lyrical, almost musical, nature of poetry that makes it easier for me to remember. I have an uncanny ability to recall song lyrics, even from terrible songs, after only a couple of listens. Anything set to music seems to go right into my long-term memory, and poetry shares that same musical quality.

Writing this post is making me remember a wonderful poetry anthology titled Beowulf to Beatles: Approaches to Poetry. I came across this book by chance. I had just moved to DeKalb, Illinois and was feeling incredibly homesick until I found this great old used bookstore right on the main street. I remember walking in and feeling intoxicated by the smell of the old books with their yellowed pages. My homesickness melted away as I browsed the shelves, and I walked out with an old ratty copy of the book, who’s $1.50 price tag fit right into my budget at the time. In this book, as the title implies, the poetry of Byron sits comfortably next to the lyrics of Bob Dylan, just as they do in my mind.

It’s an old textbook, I believe, but a great addition to anyone’s library, certainly anyone who loves either poetry or music. I loaned my copy to someone years ago and haven’t seen it since, but inspired by this post, I just re-ordered it; a used copy, just like I remember it.

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5 thoughts on “Day 7: A Book I Can Recite/ Quote

  1. Sounds like a fascinating read, indeed. The sort of book one can dip into in short bursts. I have always thought there was more continuity in the English language than people think, despite the great changes it has gone through via colliding with Norse, Norman French etc. Maybe that’s why it survived? Why shouldn’t Chaucer sit next to DH Lawrence, or Shelley next to Heaney? Great, interesting post – thank you.

  2. The only book I can quote verbatim is Virgil’s Aeneid, but that’s because I had to translate it from Latin. But to be honest, it’s just one long poem anyway. I can paraphrase lots of others. I had to learn a long poem every year for English class (I can still recite “Casey at the Bat”, “The Raven”, “As I Walked Out One Evening”, and “If” from memory, among many others). Sadly, recitation is no longer taught/encouraged as it once was. Sigh.

  3. Actually recite? Well for me that would be children’s books too, actually, there is only one that I can recite for sure – ‘Each peach pear plum’ has somehow burnt itself into my brain as well as great swathes of Dr Seuss. I can totally relate to bad songs somehow sticking when other great works elude me.

  4. Shakespeare for me…though not entirely, of course. Chunks of Falstaff’s speeches from Henry IV, of Richard III, of Hamlet (of course), of Macbeth, oh, and Julius Caesar and Merchant of Venice, of course. I still remember my wife’s reaction when, in the middle of a leisurely, romantic walk while on vacation in Venice, I broke the silence with, ‘What news on the Rialto?’

    Apparently, it was the right place, but the wrong time, to show off my skills of elocution 😦

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