Some time ago, when I tried to argue for the memorization of poetry, one reason I gave was that when we memorize poetry, we can contemplate it and come to understand it better. This weekend, I’d like to illustrate that argument with a brief reflection on three meanings I’ve seen in one simple word in the first line of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur”—meanings I don’t suppose I’d ever have noticed if I hadn’t memorized the poem and thus, almost perforce, reflected on it.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God, the priest-poet writes.
Charged. Like a battery charged full of electricity, the world pulses with God’s energy, by which alone it can have life; for in Him we live and move and have our being.
Charged. Like a heraldic banner charged with the sign of its lord, we and all the world bear the blazonry of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; we who are made in His image and likeness and walk daily under the heavens which proclaim His glory.
Charged. As messengers charged with the greatest mission of all, we are given His glory as a task, sent out to know, love, and serve Him; sent out to be always ready to account for the hope that is in us; sent out to baptize all nations in His name.
An Apple Pencil and a Victorian Jesuit poet: they don’t seem a very likely combination, do they? But Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “God’s Grandeur” is one of my favorite sonnets; so I used the freedom of the digital medium to pair Hopkin’s poem with a picture I took last summer in the beautiful Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, and tried to suit my lettering to the meaning and feel of the poetry. Here’s the result:
I love memorizing poetry, from Shakespeare to Luci Shaw, from Donne to Chesterton, and so I thought I’d share a post with some of reasons for I love poetry—and, of course, plenty of excerpts from what I’ve memorized!
In a time when we casually associate memorizing things with drudgery, I want to point out first of all that memorizing and reciting worthy poetry can be a joy. I know that memorizing is a tough skill to learn; I used to be very bad at it. It was years before I really appreciated Psalm 23, one of my early memorywork pieces. But my mom persevered and made me keep on working on memorizing, and now I’m memorizing on my own, choosing poetry and working on it. Memorizing and reciting poetry is probably my best consciously-developed habit, and mostly I do it for joy. I just love the words, love reading them and memorizing them and reciting them. It’s truly a wonderful thing to have some of the great heights of the English language kept always with you, almost made a part of you, like having mighty genii ready at your call. It is beautiful and joyful to memorize these words combined by skill and the gift of God into forms that can choke up your throat and make your heart go differently and your eyes feel odd when you recite them.
Death, be not proud, though some have called theeJohn Donne, “Holy Sonnet X”
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so…
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.