Response Papers

A few criteria:

Form: 500 words approximately, 2-3 pages. Please double space and use MLA format for any citations. Don't worry about a title page or a separate page for the bibliography--save a tree or two. Do put your name on the paper. I might be good at remembering names, but I am not so good at divining them.

Style: You are welcome to write in the first person or in a more formal voice. That said, you must produce something that resembles standard English since I will assess your capacity to communicate with clarity and grace (and good grammar).

Content: Something interesting. You can respond to anything we have encountered so far, including "Goodness" and Delbo. Drawing connections between course materials is always a good idea. You can also analyze your own response to anything we have read or scene, but be cogent rather than anecdotal.

Think about the response paper as a chance to formulate your contribution to a brilliant class discussion.


Memorizing “The Tyger”

The poem I chose to memorize was “The Tyger” by William Blake. I chose this poem for several reasons. I have liked the poem ever since I was introduced to it in high school. It inspired the novel, In the Forests of the Night by Amelia At-water Rhodes. I also chose this poem because it rhymes and therefore I decided it would be easier to memorize. I did not believe the classical art of mnemonics described in Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory would help me in this process; however, my process of memorizing “The Tyger” began with repetition and then continued with classic memory images that often involved past associations.

When I chose “The Tyger” as the poem I would memorize, I began reading it aloud several times and then began to write it out. I wrote the poem out several times because this repetition aided me, not only with memorizing content, but also with my memory for words. For instance, I find the beginning of the line, “What the hand that seized the fire,” awkward and I always want to omit the first “the” in the line (Blake, l.8). However, when I was writing the poem out, each time I got to this line, I reminded myself to add that “the”, which helped me to remember to say it when I am reciting the poem.

I thought to try the classical mnemonic system of places and images in order to memorize the poem. Simonides, in Cicero’s De oratures, “inferred that persons desiring to train this faculty (of memory) must select places and form mental images of things they wish to remember and store those images in places, so the order of the places will preserve the order of things”, (quoted in Yates, 2). To do this, I originally attempted to associate lines in the second stanza with objects and place them in an empty room. The room I imagined looked remarkably like a gallery in the AGO and instead of objects, a single painting appeared on the wall.

The first line of the second stanza in Blake’s poem was “In what distant deeps or skies,” and so the background of the painting became a sky meeting the ocean at the horizon (Blake, l.5). In the foreground appeared a man with flames in his eyes and wings protruding from his back. This image represented the second and third lines, “Burnt the fire in thine eyes/ On what wings did he aspire,” (Blake, l. 6-7). Finally, to represent the last line, the figure’s hand was engulfed in flames. Thus, I shifted from a mnemonic building to mnemonic images since that worked better for me.

It was a process similar to the one described in Ad Herennium, where a striking image “brings to mind words which the memory is seeking” (Yates, 14). For most of the other stanzas, I used this method to recall the lines of the poem. Most of the images representing the stanzas in the poem were paintings that I created in my mind. This may be because Simonides “called painting silent poetry and poetry painting that speaks” and thus I translated “The Tyger” into several mental paintings (Yates, 28). After all, although the sense of smell can trigger natural memories, it is clear that many theories on the art of memory believe sense of sight is key in trying to improve artificial memory.

While most of the mental images I made were original, some of them were borrowed due to the associations I was trying to make with the stanza. In Aristotle’s De memoria et reminiscentia, he stated that “mental images of memory are not the perception of things present but of things past” (Yates, 33). For example, the first and last stanzas are the same and for these, the image that I see in my mind is of the book cover for In the Forest of the Night. On the cover, is a vampire with a forest in the background and the only mental alteration I made to this image was including a frame in the vampire’s hand. The second line of the stanza is the title of the novel and the vampire, being immortal, helps me recall the third line. The frame is added so I can remember the last line, “Could frame thy fearful symmetry” (Blake, 4). Thus for this stanza, I used stored mental images to aid in the process of memorization because the images were already associated with the poem.

In conclusion, when I originally read Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory, the processes of memorization seemed far-fetched to me. However, after memorizing “The Tyger” by William Blake, I realized my own process of memorization was very similar to the classic memory images described in The Art of Memory. My original plan to memorize “The Tyger” was to only write out the poem several times, however, in hindsight, I recognize that memorizing my mental images is much easier than memorizing every word.

“The Tyger” by William Blake

Tyger, tyger, burning bright,
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire in thine eyes!
On what wings does he aspire!
What the hand that seized the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat?
What dread hand? What dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp?
Dare its deadly terrors clasp.

When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, tyger, burning bright,
In the forest of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Works Cited

Yates, Frances. The Art of Memory. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966.

  • The format changes by uploading it onto the website. There were indents to signify a new paragraph and now I left a line separating the paragraphs.