Memorizing a poem by Shakespeare (Prospero’s speech from The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1), the speech that begins, “Our revels are now ended,” the first three ‘lines’—
Our revels are now ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
stay in my mind with surprising swiftness: I’d expected memorization to be more difficult, and it is. The difficulties are mostly in the little words, the small words that make all the difference—the words are, now, our, all stand in my way over and over again, disrupt smooth passage to the more difficult passages that will certainly follow.
Beginning then over and over, saying the words of Shakespeare’s poem in his proper and my often improper sequences, I cannot seem to conceive of the passage as a whole; instead it is a start-and-stop battle between mind and body in which my memory fails and I admit defeat, opening my eyes then to look at the whole poem to see exactly how it looks on the page.
And like the baseless fabric of this vision;
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.
I decide to handwrite the poem in the notebook I keep, thinking the connection between imprinting Shakespeare’s words in their correct poetic order by hand might speed memorization; and it does and doesn’t. The adjectives are problematic—cloud-capped, gorgeous, solemn and insubstantial.
Week Two: I’ve entered Shakespeare’s poem on my word processor, printed it out on a clean sheet of paper, and take it around with me almost everywhere I go. There’s no substitute for saying the words over and over and over, knowing every one of them is in its perfect place. I proceed to think of myself as a reader then, then an actor, and then the writer himself. At some point, I’m not sure when or where, the language starts to become my own.
…We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep