Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Art of Recitation

Magnus Linklater wrote this in the Scotsman a few days ago:
HALFWAY through Mary Kenny's play, Allegiance, currently playing on the Fringe, Winston Churchill and the Irish republican, Michael Collins, fuelled by brandy and champagne, begin reciting poetry from memory.

They discover that they both know great chunks of GK Chesterton and can do the Charge of the Light Brigade by heart from beginning to end. They delight in finding they share so much.

"Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold; in the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold - I love that line," says Collins. "Battle poetry is so inspiring. I love it."

I doubt if such a scene could take place today. The art of recitation has become a thing of the past, and with it has gone the shared heritage of well-learnt poetry or prose. It must be more than 100 years since someone said that, if the works of Horace were lost to the world, they could be re-compiled thanks to the collective memories of MPs and peers at Westminster. Does Tony Blair recite a little Keats to George Bush, and get a dose of Longfellow in return? I don't think so.


Dad29 said...

He gets Camus in return...

PUT YOUR CHILDREN INTO FORENSICS, whether grade- or high-school level, and pick a GOOD set of poems for them to recite.

Works every time it's tried!

Nick Milne said...

We had a level-headed instructor in my 20th Century British Literature class in my second year of University who put the fear of God into his students by making them do recitation tests. It was excellent, even if we weren't allowed to choose our own poems.