Weird Things I Do: Memorize Things

This is the one in a series of (at least) 30 posts I’m going to write this month as part of what Wesley Zhao and I have dubbed No-Blog-Sloth November Challenge. One post will appear here a day from now until the end of November.

I really admire Christopher Hitchens. I think his command of the English language is incredible, and his wealth of literary, historical, and philosophical knowledge is absolutely magnificent. I mentioned in another blog post that watching him debate is one of those beautiful things that makes life worthwhile. And I think that part of what makes his speaking style and writing style so effective is his incredible ability to cite, word for word, entire literary passages that he finds interesting, poignant, or particularly relevant to the point he’s trying to make. Having made this observation, I recently decided to start memorizing things.

When I told this to one of my friends, his objection was that rather than memorize things word for word he prefers to understand concepts as a more effective way to learn. And to this I definitely agree. I hate memorizing things for tests, I think it’s boring and unproductive especially given the fact that I tend to forget everything I memorized right after I get out of the exam. But I think the process of memorizing things for personal development is beneficial in three ways:

1. It gets you acquainted with how people eloquently express themselves within the English language. When you closely study how a writer goes about composing a great passage by reading it over and over again I think you begin to internalize the elements within its style that make it great. So basically it improves your style as a writer.

2. It improves your content as a writer, debator and speaker. If I’m writing a blog post and I can whip out a quote by Socrates to underscore my point, or recite a poem during a speech I think it will greatly add to the power and affectation of whatever I’m saying. 

3. It improves your understanding of what you’re reading. If you read something over and over again, I think it’s safe to say you’ll have a greater level of comfort and understanding of the issues being discussed than someone who only reads something once. 

In order to accomplish this goal of memorizing things I set up a notebook in Evernote with things that I want to memorize. When I come across a passage I like or think might be important I add it to the Evernote and start memorizing. Every night I try to review one of the things I’m supposed to have memorized and clean up any inaccuracies. 

I haven’t been able to use anything that I’ve memorized in any useful way beyond just the personal enjoyment I get from spending time with beautiful language, but I’m hoping that those situations will come. So what have I memorized? 

Here’s three of them, written entirely from memory I promise! 

1. Today is victory over yourself of yesterday, tomorrow is victory over lesser men – Musashi
2. Your wealth of wisdom has enfeebled you – Socrates (This is nicely ironic given the subject of this blog post, but I’ll write a follow up to this about this quote and why I agree with it.)
3. Thermopylae by Cavafy (a modern Greek poet).

Honor to those who in the lives they lead
Define and guard a Thermopylae.
Never betraying what is right
Honest and just in all that they do
But with pity also, and compassion too.
Generous when they’re rich and when they’re poor.
Still helping in small ways
Still helping when they can.
Always telling the truth
Yet without hating those who lie.

And even more honor is due
To those who foresee (and many do foresee)
That Ephialtis will turn up in the end
That the the Medes will break through after all.

NOTE: there may be errors in the above – I haven’t checked for accuracy in the spirit of it being memorized 🙂

If you’re thinking “I could never spend the time to do something like memorize a poem” which I’m sure a few of you are then I have a question for you. How many songs do you know by heart? If you equate music with poetry as I do then you probably have tens or hundreds of poems committed to memory without even knowing it.

See you tomorrow, and let me know what you think about this post on Twitter.


7 Nov 2011, 12:06am | 2 comments


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