Thursday, September 18, 2008

The perils and foibles of memory

Last week I was on the spit over at BookRoast.
Somewhere around 11:38pm a fragment of a poem lodged in my brain.
I was sure the phrase was "adventurer in an unknown country."
I googled.

I spliced/sliced/diced and prestidigitzed all combinations of those words.

Then today one of the readers emailed to ask Is this what you were looking for?

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
--T.S.Eliot (snip from The Fourth Quartet)

and yes, yes it is.

Interesting how I remembered the emotional sense of the poem rather than the actual words.
And that is why I realized I must memorize poems, rather than, as I have up till now, just look them up when I want to read them again.

(Thanks Dylan for finding this!)


Emma Burns said...

It wasn't the Iliad, the passage about Diomede? Traveler in an unknown land? That is what I thought of first of all. It gets translated all kinds of ways, like Stranger in a Strange Land and so on. Indiana Jones's father quotes it when they're amongst the Nazis, too.

Susan at Stony River said...

When I went to school *mumblecough* years ago, we were forced to memorise the poetry, Shakespeare passages, all sorts of literary gems that we didn't appreciate then.

Now my kids are that age and older, but I can still rattle off many of those poems that have become favourites. I've been very very grateful for that at times, much more grateful than the moaning teenager I was, who sat in English class hating the teacher for cruelty!

Eliot's always been a favourite.
Thanks for sharing this one.

Sabina E. said...

T.S Eliot grew up in St. Louis where I went to high school! Also the hometown of Tennessee Williams ^_^

Haste yee back ;-) said...


T.S. and Tennessee came to Edwardsville Illinois, where I grew up - accross the River, for inspiration!

Haste yee back ;-)

Robin Lemke said...

Susan- Eliot is a favorite of mine, also, and I too had memorize and stand and recite.

This isn't one I knew, though. It's wonderful!

peggy said...

beautiful poem and by the were great fun at the roast :)

Sandra Cormier said...

You had us running in circles looking for that passage. Glad you found it!

Elissa M said...

My grandmother grew up in a time when "rote memorization" was considered the way to teach and learn. She died at age 107 with nary a hint of dementia, and could rattle off an amazing number of poems and snippets of literature up until the very end. Memorizing things may not have been what kept her so sharp, but she certainly loved being able to "read" her favorite poems when her eyes failed her.

Steve Stubbs said...

Interesting that T.S. Eliot would plagiarize Dame Julian of Norwich. But then Edna Saint-Vincent Milay was not above plagiarizing Shakespeare. Speaking of whom, are you sure he is not the one about whom you are thinking ("that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns")

McKoala said...

I'm so glad you finally found it - or that Dylan found it for you!

Now, memorize...