The Memory Project: Pied Beauty and More

The Memory Project: Pied Beauty and More

Memory is the storehouse of whatever knowledge we possess; and it is upon the fact of the stores lodged in the memory that we take rank as intelligent beings.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 151

I’ve been thinking about memory lately. Specifically, about what is stored there, and how to be more purposeful about what is added. I find that my memory is a bit like my attic. There are a lot of interesting and possibly valuable items up there, but they are missing a leg here, a lid there, and possibly even their original reason for existing (obsolete reel-to-reel audiotapes with no tape player, for example). Of course, almost everything, both in memory and in the attic, had a purpose once, and could be refurbished to be as good as new, but that requires time and thought.

The Memory Project

One thing I’ve been pondering — of all the things in my memory, what has been valuable and is worth keeping? What is missing a line or more and needs refurbishing? What can I add that will help me cultivate a beautiful memory? I’ve decided that one of my projects for this year will be to fill in some of the gaps and add a few new pieces. I’m calling it The Memory Project, and I’m going to try to refresh and complete one old item I partially remember and begin work on something new each month. Would you like to join me?

Taking inventory

Scripture: When I was young, I memorized yards of scripture, mostly from the King James Version. I memorized a lot of it on purpose, but also absorbed a good bit from just hearing it repeatedly. As an adult, I continued to memorize scripture, but mostly shorter pieces from a variety of translations. One thing I discovered is that memorization becomes more challenging if you frequently switch from one translation to another, so after a childhood spent in KJV, and a couple decades in the New International Version, I am currently reading RSV, and plan to stick with it for the foreseeable future.

Poetry: At some point in elementary school, I discovered poetry, and started memorizing those I loved. My grandparents had a couple of poetry anthologies, so I began with story poems such as “The Highwayman” and “Charge of the Light Brigade,” and memorized those just for the fun of it. Mrs. Chester’s high school English class introduced me to Emily Dickinson, and when I was 16, I found a lovely edition of the complete works of Shakespeare at Huntington Library‘s grand used book sale, so fragments of that masterpiece are tucked into memory as well.

Bits and pieces from all of these are still in my memory bank, and come to mind at odd moments. Sometimes I feel like Bertie in the P. G. Wodehouse novels, with the exactly-right fragment of poetry hovering on the fringe of memory, just out of reach. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Jeeves to fill in the blanks. The boys are quite accustomed to conversations peppered with odd phrases quoted from something, and they’ve been known to do it themselves. These fragments aren’t just a way to creatively express something we are trying to communicate, but like any allusion, they can also quickly point to a bigger story lying under the surface.

When the boys were young, I shared poems from my own childhood and memorized special ones just for them — “The Owl and the Pussycat”; “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod”; William Blake’s “The Tyger”; “Jabberwocky,” and more. I also partially memorized some of their favorite children’s books—The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Things I Like, and others, just from reading them over and over and over and . . . well, you get the idea. As soon as our first grandchild arrived, all these old poems, stories, and songs surfaced—some almost whole, some in fragments, and it’s been a delight to share them with a new generation. The Three Billy Goats Gruff was an unplanned memory project when one of the boys fell in love with it.

Beyond words, memory holds a storehouse of music, art, and life memories. We used a lot of audio resources with the boys because our oldest was auditory, and those set to music were most memorable. From Music and Moments with the Masters to Lyrical Life Science, math, geography, and foreign language, wisely chosen audio resources made learning fun and easy.

What has been valuable and is worth keeping?

Through all of life’s challenges, scripture has been an anchor for me, so I know it is valuable and worth keeping. The first things that come to mind when I’m joyous, sad, annoyed, burdened, weary, awed, humbled, thankful, lying awake at night, or pretty much anytime I’m not outwardly focused are usually verses. I’ve especially loved the Psalms, those most eloquent and beautiful prayers and praises, and have found them a fitting way to celebrate the glories of a star-studded sky (Psalm 8) or meditate on the the goodness and mercy of God (Psalm 103). I want to keep what I’ve learned, fill in the gaps, and memorize more.

Poetry has also been a constant presence in my life, and through the years I’ve found many poets to love. Beautifully crafted poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, and others have the power to minister to the soul with truth, beauty, and goodness, so they are certainly worth keeping. I need to review those I know, especially a few that the grandchildren enjoy, and memorize other favorites that come to mind in bits and pieces.

January’s Memory Project Goal

Since it’s a hyper-busy, get-ready-for-conferences month, I am going to focus on two short pieces that each consider the beauty of creation. In scripture, I will renew my knowledge of Psalm 8, and for poetry, I will work on memorizing “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Because I originally learned Psalm 8 in KJV, that is what I’ll use to fill in the gaps. “Pied Beauty” is below, and at Excellence in Literature, you can hear it beautifully recited by Richard Austin, along with two other lovely GMH poems.

Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim:
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And àll tràdes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Will you join me in creating a beautiful memory? I’ll write more about the nuts and bolts of how to memorize in the next post. Until then, I hope you’ll enjoy considering what you might want to memorize. If you decide to join me in The Memory Project (TMP), I’d love to hear what you’re planning to work on (just leave a comment below). If you decide to blog about it, you’re welcome to use TMP image and leave a link here with your comment. It’s a delight to furnish a beautiful memory!

8 Responses

  1. Shawn says:

    I would love a good US/American History course to supplement your American Lit for my 11th grader, what do you recommend? Or what did you use?

    • We used the Landmark History of the United States, plus all of the Sonlight history and reading books. My oldest son (he was a history major in college, and has read or listened to countless history books) also recommends Winston Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

      I’d be quite interested to hear what you end up using, and it would probably be useful to others as well. Thank you for stopping by!

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