Memorizing a Poem

from An Essay on Man

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer,
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of Truth, in endless Error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

It’s verse like this that I recommend here at MVP. This is a famous excerpt of a much longer work by Alexander Pope, published in 1734. Honestly, I don’t know much about Pope, but I will post more as I continue my research. Most of us, however, are familiar with his memorable line, “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Yes — he said that. See Correction.

This weekend, I faced the unpleasant prospect of a long drive with a malfunctioning car stereo. On my way to a friend’s place in the country, I occupied my time by memorizing these lines.  What else was I going to do?

By the time I arrived, I had it memorized. If you’ve never committed a poem to memory before, all you need is a malfunctioning car stereo. Mine has behaved electronically glitchy ever since I spun 180 degrees in a skid on Thursday around 1:30 AM. Did I mention I used to work as a comedy defensive driving instructor?

English: Portrait of Alexander Pope attributed...

English: Portrait of Alexander Pope attributed to the English painter Jonathan Richardson (1665–1745). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recommend memorizing a poem. Saying the lines aloud forces you to think about them, to consider their meaning,  to focus on the progression from one thought to the next, and to note repeated words and sounds. This is not an assignment, just a suggestion. Try it.

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