Monday, December 23, 2013

OSSA 6 NUMBER 8: Buddhism Mnemonic



OSSA 1 FISH: Astrological Mnemonic Wheel




Once again, unable to find precisely what I was looking for as a mnemonic image for the Western Zodiac, I felt compelled to create my own.

Astrology is one of the intuitive methods like the I Ching, geomantics, and other divinatory procedures. It is based upon the synchronicity principle, i.e. meaningful coincidence. ... Astrology is a naively projected psychology in which the different attitudes and temperaments of man are represented as gods and identified with planets and zodiacal constellations.
 - C. G. Jung

The starry vault of heaven is in truth the open book of cosmic projection, in which are reflected the mythologems, i.e., the archetypes. In this vision astrology and alchemy, the two classical functionaries of the psychology of the collective unconscious, join hands.  
- C. G. Jung

Saturday, December 21, 2013

OSSA 23 PI: Piphilology: Mnemonics for Pi: O, lest the world should task you to recite


source

More of the Memory Project. Memorization of poems, prose, songs, lists are all enhanced by the meaningful context, syntax, semantics, cause and effect, mathematical sequence and chronology. Spiritual, mental, emotional and physical associations arise, in a manner or speaking, out of the thing being committed to memory. What it means to learn something "by heart."

 Then there is the mathematical constant π: the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter:  3.14 as it is most commonly known. It is an irrational number, infinite with no repeats. As far as memory is concerned, it has an aura of purity around it. Pure memorization. No rhyme or reason to it. Nothing to lock on to. Just an endless series of numbers.

The current record holder is Mr. Chao Lu from China, who on November 20th, 2005 spent 24 hours and 4 minutes reciting Pi to 67,890 places. In an interview, he said that it took him a year to memorize that many digits. In 2006, Krishan Chahal from India recited Pi to 43,000 places in 5 hours and 21 minutes. It is worth noting that the youngest person on the Pi World Ranking List is 6 year-old Sarianna Kuuttila, who recited Pi to 20 digits in 4.47 seconds.

There are many methods for memorizing Pi. Piphilology is the study of mnemonic techniques for Pi. Since I use poetry and music as primary mnemonic aids, I was interested to find two mnemonic poems to Pi. The first, composed by Jill Britton, is relatively easy and most people might be surprised that they can memorize Pi to 31 places (note that the number of letters in the word correspond to Pi):

Sir, I bear a rhyme excelling
In mystic force and magic spelling
Celestial sprites elucidate
All my own striving can’t relate
Or locate they who can cogitate
And so finally terminate. Finis.

3.14159
265358
979
323846
264338
32795

The second is more interesting. Created by Joel Doerfel as part of his Neon Shakespeare Project , it uses a clever mnemonic technique of, what he calls "synathesia" - a sort of derivation of a number from the homophonetic sound of the word or phonetic elements of the word. In Japan, there is a form of wordplay called Goroawase similar to this. By using this method for the duration of 14 line sonnet, with approximately 10 "number-sounds" per line, you can memorize Pi to 140 places. I must admit that as fascinating as the video is, the recitation leaves something to be desired as for as a helpful mnemonic device. So, I have taken the liberty of doing an interlinear "translation" below to assist with memorization.

 From Poems that Rhyme with Pi:
This sonnet is an experiment in synaesthesia. Why rhyme with pi? What's the relation between sound and number? What happens to our ears when we hear pi reinforce itself with repetitive numbers? What happens to our ears when we hear a poem reinforce itself with repetitive sounds? This sonnet explores these questions and more...

Sonnet 72 
dreams number us like pi. runes shift. nights rewind daytime pleasure-piles. dream-looms create our id. moods shift. words deviate. needs brew. pleasures rise. time slows. too late? wait! foreign minds live in us! quick-minds, free-minds, minds-we-never-mind, unknown, gyrate! neuro-rhymes measure our minds, for our minds rhyme. crude ego-emanations distort nodes. id, (whose basic neuro-spacetime rhymes), plays its tune. space drones before fate unites dreams' lore to unsung measures. whole dimensions gyrate. new number-games donate quick minds and weave through fate's loom. fears, hopes, digits, or devils collide here—labor stored in gold-mines, lives, lightcone- piles. fate loops through dreams and pleasure-looms...
3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640628620899862803482534211706798214808651328230664709384460955058223172

dreams number us like pi. runes shift. nights rewind
    3.       1     4    1   5    9      2      6        5        3    5       
daytime pleasure-piles. dream-looms create our id.
  8    9          7         9         3         2      3   8     4   6        
moods shift. words deviate. needs brew. pleasures rise.
    2         6       4        3 3 8     3         2          7          9     
time slows. too late? wait! foreign minds live in
   5        0     2     8      8        4    1      9          7       
us! quick-minds, free-minds, minds-we-never-mind,
  1     6         9        3      9          9        3    7         5     
unknown, gyrate! neuro-rhymes measure our
   1    0         5   8    2    0     9          7          4             
minds, for our minds rhyme. crude ego-emanations
   9         4    4    5          9           2     3  0    7    8   1     
distort nodes. id, (whose basic neuro-spacetime rhymes),
  6    4    0        6     2         8  6    2  0     8      9      9       
plays its tune. space drones before fate unites
  8      6     2       8        0       3    4     8   2    5             
dreams’ lore to unsung measures. whole dimensions
   3          4    2   1    1      7                0       6      7      
gyrate. new number-games donate quick minds and
 9  8        2    1     4     8         0   8      6      5        1     
weave through fate’s loom. fears, hopes, digits, or devils
  3         2            8     2           3       0           6 6    4    7
collide here—labor stored in gold-mines, lives, lightcone-
  0   9     3        8   4    4       6    0      9          5       5    0 
piles. fate loops through dreams and pleasure-looms….
5          8      2       2            3        1       7         2  


And here is Sonnet 72 from Shakespeare:

O, lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me, that you should love
After my death, -- dear love, forget me quite,
For you in me can nothing worthy prove;
Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,
To do more for me than mine own desert,
And hang more praise upon deceased I
Than niggard truth would willingly impart:
O, lest your true love may seem false in this,
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
For I am sham'd by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

OOSA 18 MERCURY: A Wheel of Mnemonic Correspondences for the Hebrew Alphabet and the Major Arcana

Wheel of Mnemonic Correspondences


Recently, in accordance with a memory project that I am working on, I was searching for a Mnemonic Wheel that would align the correspondences between the Hebrew Alphabet and the Major Arcana of the Tarot.  My interest is not so much in the Kabbalistic qualities of the system but in those symbols which facilitate memory. My sense of it is that the Mnemonic and Kabbalistic are not far apart. However, after some searching, I could not find anything suitable. So I made my own.

 Key: 

The outermost circle of Roman Numbers, excepting 0, is the ordinal sequence for the Rider-Waite Tarot.

The next circle is the Hebrew Alphabet.

 Below this is the circle of attributes corresponding to the letters of the alphabet.

 Below this are the letters for the cards in the Major Arcana of the Rider-Waite Tarot.

Next are the numbers associated with the Hebrew Alphabet.

Then, the attributes associated with each Major Arcana cards.

In the center is the Tree of Life or 10 Sephirot - to which the Major Arcana also have correspondence.

I have found it a helpful mnemonic tool for both the Hebrew Alphabet, the Major Arcana and the Sephirot. A sub-chapel in the Memory Cathedral.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

EMBLEMS: SCRIPTUM

Source


- PROSE -

1. The Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln
2. The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States
3. Message to Congress, Abraham Lincoln, 1862
4. Philosophies of India, Heinrich Zimmer
5. The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H., George Steiner
6. The Third Man, Orson Welles
7. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Jonathan Edwards
8. Moby-Dick "He Tasks Me," Herman Melville
9. Moby-Dick "Father Mapple's Sermon," Herman Melville
10. Moby-Dick "The Whiteness of the Whale," Herman Melville
11. Thoughts in Solitude "The Desert Was Created," Thomas Merton
12. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism "If We Reproduce," Lama Govinda
13. Desiderata, Max Ehrmann
14. Life Without Bloodshed, Cormac McCarthy
15. On Difficulty "The Poet May Choose," George Steiner
16. Can These Bones Live? "The Critic is the Sancho Panza," Edward Dahlberg
17. The Varieties of Religious Experience "Among Us English," William James
18. Heidegger in Conversation "Japanese Word for Language"
19. The Worm to Come, Isaac Watts
20. Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, William Faulkner

Friday, August 16, 2013

POESIS 1 SCAFFOLD: Straight Tip to All Cross Cove (De bonne doctrine a ceux demauvaise vie) by Francois Villon





THE POEM

Ballade de bonne doctrine à ceux de mauvaise vie
By Francios Villon (c. 1431 - disappeared after 1463)

Car ou soies porteur de bulles,
Pipeur ou hasardeur de dés,
Tailleur de faux coins et te brûles
Comme ceux qui sont échaudés,
Traîtres parjurs, de foi vidés;
Soies larron, ravis ou pilles:
Où s'en va l'acquêt, que cuidez?
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.

Rime, raille, cymbale, luthes,
Comme fol feintif, éhontés;
Farce, brouille, joue des flûtes;
Fais, ès villes et ès cités,
Farces, jeux et moralités,
Gagne au berlan, au glic, aux quilles
Aussi bien va, or écoutez!
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.

"De tels ordures te recules,
Laboure, fauche champs et prés,
Sers et panse chevaux et mules,
S'aucunement tu n'es lettrés;
Assez auras, se prends en grés.
Mais, se chanvre broyes ou tilles,
Ne tends ton labour qu'as ouvrés
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles?

Chausses, pourpoints aiguilletés,
Robes, et toutes vos drapilles,
Ains que vous fassiez pis, portez
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.



TRANSLATIONS

Francois Villon’s Straight Tip To All Cross Coves 
(De bonne doctrine a ceux de mauvaise vie)
Rendered by William Ernest Henley 1887

 ‘Tout aux tavernes et aux filles’

I

Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?
Or fake the broads? or fig a nag?
Or thimble-rig? or knap a yack?
Or pitch a snide? or smash a rag?
Suppose you duff? or nose and lag?
Or get the straight, and land your pot?
How do you melt the multy swag?
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

II

Fiddle, or fence, or mace, or mack;
Or moskeneer, or flash the drag;
Dead-lurk a crib, or do a crack;
Pad with a slang, or chuck a fag;
Bonnet, or tout, or mump and gag;
Rattle the tats, or mark the spot
You cannot bank a single stag:
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

III

Suppose you try a different tack,
And on the square you flash your flag?
At penny-a-lining make your whack,
Or with the mummers mug and gag?
For nix, for nix the dibbs you bag
At any graft, no matter what!
Your merry goblins soon stravag:
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

The Moral.

It’s up-the-spout and Charley-Wag
With wipes and tickers and what not!
Until the squeezer nips your scrag,
I first heard Henley's version of Villon's ballad, De bonne doctrine a ceux de mauvaise vie (Good Doctrines for a Bad Life), while watching a video of Rick Jay performing card tricks:








At the time, I was looking for an interesting poem to memorize and this was ideal. I wanted a to test my memory with a poem I had never heard before. While I knew a little about Villon - outlaw poet, wrote in criminal argot, "the snows of yesteryear" - I had never before heard this piece. It sounded like a French version of the Russian influenced "Nadsat" of Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Orange:

“When the last movement had gone round for the second time with all the banging and creeching about Joy Joy Joy Joy, then these two young ptitsas were not acting the big lady sophisto no more. They were like waking up to what was being done to their malenky persons and saying that they wanted to go home and like I was a wild beast. They looked like they had been in some big bitva, as indeed they had, and were all bruised and pouty."

Villon's poem was beautiful and strange, oddly cool and complex, full of a raw humor and lowlife wisdom. More importantly, I wanted to know it by heart. I wanted to place it within my interior library so that I would have it at hand to draw upon whenever I desired.  It appeared from "the outside" to meet all the criteria I was looking for. Additionally, the fact that most of it was in an slang that sounded like a foreign language provided it a layer of semantic opacity, contingent difficulty (cf. Steiner), that seemed a good test for my memory abilities.

A cursory search led me to The Ondioline where I found the entire translation of the Villon poem, here titled Straight Tip to All Cross Cove. The translator was the 19th century poet Willian Ernest Henley, best known for his defiant and charged "Invictus." Significantly, Henley also helped to edit a seven volume work, Slang and Its Analogues.





Henley's translation, attempting to be true to the spirit of Villon's language, substitutes 19th century thieve's cant (cryptolect) for the 15th century French street argot in the poem. To beautiful effect.


After reading Henley's version, all others seem overly mannered, with no life, ruffling disdainful feathers under the dust of old books in forgotten library stacks. To illustrate this point, The Ondioline quotes a portion of a translation from Henry de Vere Stacpoole (who also wrote, The Blue Lagoon). I have difficulty reading the de Vere Stacpoole version (archive.org collection) and not hearing it in a haughty shouting Oxford accent:


Frontpiece of The Poems of François Villon.
Translated by H. de Vere Stacpoole (1914)


Ye who be smugglers of papal bulls,
Or cheaters at dice, whatever be ye –
Coiners who risk life and limb like fools,
Then boil in hot oil for their felony,
Traitors disloyal — ye know who ye be –
Stealers of jewels, of perfume and pearls:
So where goes it all, that ye get in fee?
All to the taverns and to the girls. 



Le Grant Testament Maistre Françoys Villon et le Petit.
 Son Codicille avec le Jargon et ses Ballades - source



CHRONOLOGY


1315-1322  The Great Famine. Millions of deaths. Memory image: Hansel and Gretel, the story of two children threatened by a cannibalistic witch, originates from this event.

1337 - 1453  The Hundred Year’s War. Memory image: A map of Europe with no France: what the English would have liked to have happened.

1347 - 1351  The Black Death. Millions more died. Memory image: Danse Macabre: Skeletons dancing on the graves

1431 - April 19  François Villon born in Paris. May 30  Memory image: Joan of Arc burned at the stake. 

1449  Villon receives bachelor’s degree from the University of Paris

1450 Wolves terrorize Paris, killing forty. 

1452  Villon receives a master’s degree from the University of Paris.

1453  The end of the Hundred Year’s War at Bordeaux. English are defeated. Memory image: Map of France as it is. 

1456  - June 5 Villon is implicated in a murder. Villon fled. Sentenced to banishment. December -  Robbery of Collège de Navarre by Villon.  Composed Petit Testament or Lais.

1461  Imprisoned. Granted general amnesty with the accession of the King on 2 October 1461.

1462  Imprisoned and tortured, condemned to be hanged. Writes Le Grand Testament. Sentence commuted to banishment on 5 January 1463.

1492  Columbus becomes first European to land in Caribbean. Memory image: Three women, Maria, Pinta, Nina kissing the natives, infecting them with Old World diseases.

1498  Leonardo da Vinci paints The Last Supper. Image.

1499  Michelangelo Buonarroti sculpts the Pietà. Image.


Frontpiece to The jargon of Master francois Villon clerk of Paris, A.D.
Being Seven Ballads from the Thieves' Argot of the XVth Century


HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL CONTEXT

The richer the context, the easier it is to build up memorable associations. Even a rudimentary sense of the historical occurrence of the poem is helpful. A text as occluded and riddled with cryptolect as Straight Tip will inevitably find some sympathetic resonance, something to hook on to - even if this is peculiar only to you - in the historical events that surrounded it. 

Villon enters this world in the year of 1431, in the city Paris, at the end of the Middle Ages, just on the cusp of an emerging Renaissance in Western Europe.  At his back is Famine, War and Plague. At his side, always, is Death. 

William Manchester, in A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, paints a harrowing portrait of the the time:

“In the early 1500s one could hike through the woods for days without encountering a settlement of any size. Between 80 and 90 percent of the population (the peasantry; serfdom had been abolished everywhere except in remote pockets of Germany) lived in villages fewer than a hundred people, fifteen or twenty miles apart, surrounded by endless woodlands. They slept in their small cramped hamlets, which afforded little privacy, but they worked - entire families, including expectant mothers and toddlers - in the fields and pastures between their huts and the great forest. It was brutish toil, but absolutely necessary to keep the wolf from the door. Wheat had to be beaten out by flails, and not everyone owned a plowshare. Those who didn’t borrowed or rented when possible; when it was impossible, they broke the earth awkwardly with mattocks.” 

In her entertaining history, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Barbara Tuchman summarizes the age and illustrates the danger of living in the city and being a member of the privileged class.

“In the next fifty years, the forces set in motion during the 14th century played themselves out, some of them in exaggerated form like human failings in old age. After heavy recurrence in the last year of the old century, the Black Death disappeared, but war and brigandage were renewed, the cult of death grew more extreme, the struggle to end to schisms and reform the abuses of the Church more desperate. Depopulation reached its lowest point in a society already weakened both physically and morally.

In France, Jean de Nevers, who had succeeded his father as Duke of Burgundy in 1404, turned assassin, precipitating a train of evils. In 1407, he employed a gang of toughs to murder his rival Lous D’Orleans in the streets of Paris. As Louis was returning to his hotel after dark, he was set upon by hired killers who cut off his left hand holding the reins, dragged him from his mule, hacked him to death with swords, axes and wooden clubs, and left his body in the gutter while the mounted escort, which never seems to have been much use on these occasions, fled.”

History gives us the privilege of looking back and seeing a meaning and significance to events that at the time appeared to have no consequence. Borges’ comment that Tacitus did not perceive the Crucifixion. Still, I imagine the young Villon, roaming the streets of Paris, being shaped by a world haunted by death, whether from plague, famine or murder. Tuchman continues:

“Statues of St. Roch and other saints invoked against the plague and various forms of sudden death multiplied in the churches; the fashion for naked skeletal effigies spread. Now in the 15th century the cult of death flourished at its most morbid. Artists dwelt on physical rot in ghoulish detail: worms wriggled through every corpse, bloated toads sat on dead eyeballs. A mocking, beckoning, gleeful Death led the parade of the Danse Macabre around the innumerable frescoed walls. A literature of dying expressed itself in popular treatises on Ars Moriendi. the Art of Dying, with scenes of the deathbed, doctors and notaries in attendance, hovering families, shrouds and coffins, grave-diggers who spades uproot the bones of the earlier dead, finally the naked corpse awaiting God’s judgement while angels and black devils dispute for his soul.”


In the year of Francois Villon’s birth, 1431, Joan of Arc, 19 years old, was burned at the stake in Rouen, just north of Paris.

“In an entry dated May 1431, the Bourgeois of Paris, anonymous author of the Parisian Journal, records the chilling and curious execution of one of France’s most enigmatic figures: 

‘She was at once unanimously condemned to death and was tied to a stake on the platform (which was built of plaster) and the fire lit under her. She was soon dead and all her clothes were burned. Then the fire was raked back and her naked body was shown to all the people and tall the secrets that could or should belong to a woman, to take away any doubts from people’s minds. When they stared long enough at her dead body bound to the stake, the executioner got a big fire going again round her poor carcass, which was soon burned up, both flesh and bone reduced to ashes.’ 

In order that her ashes were not used for maleficium, they were scattered into the Seine.”

From Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc by Bonnie Wheeler, Charles T. Wood, 1999


A map of Paris is from 1422 to 1589 shows a small city. Estimated population after the decimations of the previous years: 150,000 to 200,000. 


An indication of how primal and, at times, savage, life was back then: in 1450 a pack of wolves terrorized the city, killing forty people. Their notoriety was such that the leader of the pack had a name, Courtaud, and a commonplace farewell was, “Don’t get eaten by wolves.” Eventually, in what a scene that I wish I had witnessed, the angered Parisians lured the wolves to the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral using a live child in a cage as bait. They surrounded the pack and killed them with stones and spears. During this time, Villon was a student at the University of Paris. [Daniel Mannix’s Wolves of Paris is a compelling and brutal account of the wolves attack on Paris from the wolves point of view. Highly recommended. (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolves_of_Paris) ]

Translators and biographers often make the just observation of what makes the poetry of Francois Villon so remarkable is its simultaneous celebration of the low and the high. Villon stands alone in his expressive ability to have one foot in the grave and the other stepping up to the stars.

“An American writer in a recent number of the Chap-Book has thus linked our poet: 

‘The Poes and Villons, the urban highest types of genius, to which belong the Verlaines and the Baudelaires, invariably voice a supremely artificial conception of life and its aspirations. Their flowers are flowers of evil; their trees bear Sodom apples; their birds sing dolorous songs, and the very air they breathe has a burden of severe poison.’ 

This critic is right when he says that these men cannot be judged by rural standards. It is by these alone that one can understand his failure to see the sad beauty and eternal truth that wells from the poetry of men whose souls are on the rack. A man who is able to see in Villon something other than artistic evil need not necessarily consider himself an artist, but it seems to me that he views everything from a higher plane if he can include himself with those who see, as Stevenson says, beautiful and human traits in him.”

 François Villon by G. L. Swiggett, The Sewanee Review, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Oct., 1899)


This engraving, by the 17th century English artist John Payne,
is the frontispiece to The Mirrour Which Flatters Not.
Dedicated to their Maiesties of Great Britaine, by Le Sieur de la Serre,
Historiographer of France. Enriched with faire Figures. (1639),
a book of poetry by Jean Puget de La Serre, translated into English by Thomas Carey.
source  

“He says horrible things, he says sordid things, and he says beautiful things, but he says one thing always—the truth, and his lamentations are real no less when he is lamenting his own fate than the fate of the women who have vanished from the world. 

Considering the times in which he lived, he is wonderfully clean-spoken and devoid of brutality. Remember, that in the Paris of 1456 they boiled malefactors alive in the cauldron of the swine-market, the graveyards at night were the haunts of debauchery, priests and nuns helped in the recruiting of the army of Crime, and the students of the University were often reduced to begging their bread from door to door. He, in his personal life, had been hardly dealt with. He killed Chermoye; and who was Chermoye? a priest armed with a dagger. He was a robber, but he was a robber in an age of robbers. God made him a robber, it is true; but at least let us thank God that He did not make him a tradesman. He was a robber, but he was compassionate towards children and women grown old — see amongst other things, the ballade written for his mother and many of the verses of the Testaments; and it is this feeling for things weak and humble and ruined that lends his verse a grace greater even than the grace lent to it by his genius. To arrive at a true estimate of the man we must look, not at his actions, of which we know little, but at the expressions of his mind which lie before us in his poems.”


Finally, the lovely single sentence summing up Villon and his times:

[…] Born in 1431 of humble parentage and brought up in Paris by his god-father, the good Canon of St. Benoit; a tempestuous career at the University, debauch and repentance, ambition and despair; Master of Arts in 1452, at the same time Master of Knavery and also of lyric verse in the ballad form; the wonderful two-sided character of the man, a man who could turn from the coarsest jest in verse to write the beautiful ''Prayer for his mother to Notre Dame"; the murder of the priest in 1455 followed by his flight from Paris; his probable sojourn in the Provinces with the Coquillards; then the robbery of the College of Navarre; his imprisonment and sentence at Meung-sur-Loire and his pardon by Louis XIth upon that monarch's accession to the Throne; again implicated in a murder in Paris; torture, sentence to death, and his appeal, followed by a second pardon and by banishment, - such a person was well fitted to write a warning word to his companions.


Stabler, Jordan Herbert, 1885-1938. “The jargon of Master Francois Villon : clerk of Paris, A.D. MCCCCLII & being seven ballads from the Thieves' Argot of the XVth Century. Published 1918

Smoking Men, 1637
by Adriaen Brouwer


MEMORIZATION

Since I have been singing songs as memory practice, I approached the poem as a song. This makes sense since ballades were originally composed to accompany dances with the dancers singing along with singing the refrains. 

It is important for me to create a vivid mental world for the poem to unfold within. I remind myself that I can imagine anything, figures surreal, pornographic and unforgettably terrifying. However, as the above discussion indicates, I prefer to create a world that pulls as much from the world around it, history and biography, as possible. (This is where I differ from other memory systems. More upon this later.) I find this helpful not only if I want to memorize other poems from Villon, but also if I am memorizing other works from the same period. 



Peasants Carousing in a Tavern, 1630
by Adriaen Brouwer


What I  imagine is something like this: evening red in the sky. A dirt road. The sound of laughter and loud conversation. A tavern on the outskirts of Paris. Mid-1400s. Outside are four horses symbolic of the the times: a red horse for the 100 Years War, a black horse for the Great Famine, a grey horse for disease and the Plague and a pale horse for Death. The Four Horses of the Apocalypse stand not only for the age but for the sense of Doomsday that haunted the mentality of the Late Middle Ages. 

Inside the tavern, soldiers from the endless war, students from Villon’s time at the University of Paris, thieves and rogues who are now his companions, homeless peasants and displaced farmers from the ravaged country. Women: barmaids, whores, and wives laughing with the men. Villon stands by a roaring fire. All are drinking ale, hollering insults at Villon to sing his song. 

Now I turn to the poem itself. I am trying to get a handle on how to approach memorizing it. Where I can grab hold. Where I can count on it to behave in a particular way. 

I look at its overall structure, noting it is composed of 3 stanzas with a short "message" or moral at the end. 

Also, I note that the last line of each stanza and the message are the same: "Booze and the blowens cop the lot." This is refrain, which "break-ups" the narrative flow and serves as a kind of punch-line to the scene set up in the lines before it. 

I know this will make it easier to memorize, knowing I have to “get to this line” at the end.

Then I look at each stanza:


    1                   2              3     4      5
1 Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?   A
2 Or fake the broads? or fig a nag?   B
3 Or thimble-rig? or knap a yack?   A
4 Or pitch a snide? or smash a rag?   B

1 Suppose you duff? or nose and lag?   A
2 Or get the straight, and land your pot?   B
3 How do you melt the multy swag?   A
4 Booze and the blowens cop the lot.   B  (REFRAIN)


Each stanza has eight lines, excepting the message - which has four. 

The are five strong beats to each line. There is a consistent rhythm to each. I note how each ends with three strong beats: go cheap-jack… bamm bamm bamm… fig a nag. 

I see also there is rhyme pattern of ABAB, known as the elegiac stanza. 

So I know there was going to be a regular rhythm, beat, or meter. And I also know that every other line is going to have a rhyme at the end. Sort of little acoustic chime of harmony. All of these are mnemonic devices.

Now have the essential skeleton for the poem: an 8 line ballad with a single line refrain at the end, composed of two four-line stanzas, or quatrains, in the elegiac form, which means there is a regular five beats per line with an ABAB rhyme pattern. 

This in an old and well-worn mnemonic structure. Poets and singers have been writing in this form since the Child Ballads in the 13th century. One of the beautiful effects of memorizing is that whenever I am trying to memorize a poem with the similar structure, my mind recognizes this pattern, making it much easier to learn a new poem. The history and origin of the interior structure of poetic form is a history of mnemonic systems.

Now into each line:

Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?

Let the poem become the memory theater. Allow the language of  the poem to create the images. From the poet's imagination to yours. This is a mystery. This is beautiful. This is the meaning and deepest pleasure of poetry. 

There are those who would say you should memorize this first line by imaging a supper for suppose, and you are sitting down at the supper at the Cross Cove Inn, then someone sneezes while they are screaming and a little girl laughs and says the screeved insted of sneezed and an old man named Jack at the head of the table is disgusted and refuses to pay for his meal because he is so cheap. 

But for me, the language and imagery from the poet's imagination is enough. All of these take me away from the true meaning of the poem and, actually, give me more things to remember. 

I just do not understand why anyone would try to add personal mnemonic imagery to a great poem. The question then is to ask yourself why are you memorizing the poem? If it is merely to prove you can memorize a series of words with no regard for their meaning, for why the poet was compelled to write them in the first place, then it is all sound and fury signifying nothing. However, if you want to know the poem to take it into the depths of your soul so that it might whisper and sing to you, to remind of all that is just and good and beautiful, then allow it to work for you.


Stock woodcut image, used to represent François Villon
in the 1489 printing of the Grand Testament de Maistre François Villon
source

But what do these strange words mean? I have to do some looking up here. Fortunately, many people have also had this same question. The source comes from the seven volume Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present, edited by John Farmer and Henley in the late 1800s. I went through and looked up as many of the words and collected them here: Source Material for Francois Villon 


Suppose you screeve = forge documents
Go cheap jack = sell cheap or dubious goods
Fake the broads = stack the deck of cards
Fig a nag = place in fig in a horse's ass to make it appear more healthy
Thimble-rig = play a fame of shells with thimbles
Knap a yack = steal a watch
Pitch a snide = use a false coin
Smash a rag = counterfeit cash money
Suppose you duff = sell fake goods
Or nose or lag = become an informer, go to prison
Get the straight = choose the winner in a race
Land your pot = get your winnings, money
Melt that multy swag? = how do you spend that bloody / fucking money, cash, loot

Then, delivering the punch-line refrain:

Booze and blowens = Booze and Women
Cop the lot =  steal it all, take everything you have

I can hear the laughter in the French Tavern, the release of tension after the litany of crimes, coming to this refrain - which everyone soon joins in singing. More context, more "feel" of the poem.

The first line now,
Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?

Because of the canting language, while it is English, feels unfamiliar. I keep wanting to substitute "shreeve" for "screeve" but the end of line, with the bounce from the soft "cheap" to the hard K of "jack" is very memorable. And "cheap-jack" conjurs up a strong character. 

It seems easier to me at this point, after I have the first line down, to look at each quatrain as a unit. The lines are tied together by the rhyme at the end:


Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?
Or fake the broads? or fig a nag?
Or thimble-rig? or knap a yack?
Or pitch a snide? or smash a rag?


Suppose you duff? or nose and lag?
Or get the straight, and land your pot?
How do you melt the multy swag?
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.


In the second line,

Or fake the broads or fig a nag

there is a nice alliteration in the second line: Fffake the broads Fffig a nag.

With each line I repeat it again and again until I get it, then add it to what I have previously set in my memory:

Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?
Or fake the broads? or fig a nag?

I imagine a dealer cutting the marked, fake deck, the cards as ladies, broads, Queens smiling at Jacks behind the King's back.

And the image of a down-on-his-luck character shoving a fig into the ass of broken down old nag to make her seem more lively needs no further adornment.

I imagine this dealer inside the Tavern with his "broads" and his partner outside "figging a nag" to sell to some unfortunate soul. I can hear a horse's whinny of surprise. My sense here is that the interior world of the poem is beginning to open up to me.

Now I know the next two lines will rhyme with the endings of the first two. It creates a glow of intellectual excitement to know how the line will end acoustically. I have to fight here to not want to substitute my own language. 

The word "yack" (watch) is new to me. I want to go to something more familiar: rack, crack, sack. And I have to additionally work against the insistent image of a Yak standing there, breathing steam, at the end of the line. But the line is so satisfying to say,

Or thimble-rig? or knap a yack?

The tongue pressed up against the teeth for "thimble," then rolling back to allow to mouth to say "rig," then the tongue up against the palate for "gnap" and the entire mouth opening to make the "yack" sound.

I imagine the game of shells or thimbles, a young guy sliding the thimbles around, asking under which one is the pea? While his confederate slips through the gathered crowd looking to steal, gnap, an unsuspecting spectator's watch, yack.

Or pitch a snide? or smash a rag?

Here is keep substituting "pinch," because that just seems what you should do to a "snide." Dr. Seuss imagery also intrudes. I push it to the side. I think about casually throwing the fake coin to an unsuspecting merchant, pitch the snide, pitch the snide.

"Smash a rag" is a natural phrase, if incongruous in contemporary meaning. Monetary notes are the "rag" and I imagine smashing counterfeit notes down on the counter. Don't look at the bill too closely. Pitch the coins, smash the paper notes.

And the rhyme ties it all together: Jack to Yack and Nag to Rag.

Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?
Or fake the broads? or fig a nag?
Or thimble-rig? or knap a yack?
Or pitch a snide? or smash a rag?

I recite/sing this until I have it down. With no errors. I also work with not singing it, flatly saying it. Then recite it with an English accent, then a Texas accent, listening to the pulse of the language flowing through the variations.

Now the second half:

Suppose you duff? or nose and lag?
Or get the straight, and land your pot?
How do you melt the multy swag?
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

Starts with another "suppose" like the first. I like that. It gives me a mnemonic anchor to start the quatrain off with.

I also remember that I actually only have to memorize three of these lines. Because I already "know" the last one. This is kind of a trick that I continually play on myself. I don't think about it too much. But at some point, I just unconsciously absorbed the last line: Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

Also, like the end of a rhymed line, there is a tickle of anticipation to get to this last line. It is the payoff, the punch-line, what gives all the rest the lines, the entire poem, meaning. I always am looking forward to being able to recite this line.

I also note the second line of this secondary quatrain, and all the others, will always rhyme with "lot." That is some more memory money in the bank.

Suppose you duff? or nose and lag?

First off, the sound of the line pulls up short at duff, then kind of releases after the sound of nose and lag. You can hear the first line, Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack? underneath this one. 

Imagery is a man selling fake goods. A duffel bag is resonate. Full of his wares. Word roots extend to “duffer” as a stupid person. Spiritless. I picture the man. 

Nose and lag. The nose is nosey, inquiring into other’s business. The lag is a lackey, a prison flunkey. Both inform. Both betray. There words are crooked. 

Or get the straight, and land your pot?

Easy here: you see it all clear, make the right choices and win or gain some money. Keeping in mind here that pot is going to trigger the last line, rhyming with lot. It is not going to be anything like: Or get the straight and land your doe or money or winnings. Got to rhyme with lot. Pot lot. 

How do you melt the multy swag?

How do you spend it, get rid of it? Again the rhyme comes from lag above. I really like the sound of the expletive / intensifier multy. I like saying multy swag.

Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

I know this already. Booze and woman take everything. 

I work through the others stanzas in this similar way, Listening for sounds I can memorize. Then adding the meaning of the words to allow the poem to create its own images, its own world within my memory. 

In the end, the poem has populated a theater of characters performing various nefarious acts. This theater is also the French Tavern where Villon is singing. The soldiers, students, thieves, famers, the wives and other women have all been the actors in the play of the poem. I can hear them calling for more rounds of ale and more verses of the song. Drunkenly repeating the refrain. Buying more drink for Villon, slapping him on the back, congratulating him on the multy good song. And over in the corner, away from the light, William Ernest Henley, with two good legs, is sitting beside Wendy from Peter Pan. And he is happy.



source


I have to emphasize here that my initial memorization is musical. I don’t entirely know how I do it. But I mostly memorize the sound of the language before I know the meaning of the words. 

I worked on Straight Tip to All Cross Cove as I was driving. I was not able to consult a dictionary or a glossary to remind myself of the meaning of each word. It was only after I got home that I was able to look them up. This always added more to the word, impressing it deeper into my memory, granting it more gravity. The next time I was driving, when I said, Suppose you screeve, not only was the sound there but also the meaning of the sound. 



Holy bones in Saint-Victor Abbey in Marseilles.

From the excellent site: Medicographia: The Eternal Life of Bones


Within my Memory Cathedral, in the Chapel of Poetry, each poem has its own small altar recessed into the wall. Each time I come back to it, I dust off the reliquaries, remove the bones, polish them up, make them shine, and occasionally add some new fragment to further complete the whole. 



Fragment of the heart of Louis XVII,
son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, the 10-yearold heir to the throne of France
who died in the Temple Prison in Paris on June 8, 1795.
His royal parents were guillotined.

From the excellent site: Medicographia: The Eternal Life of Bones








Friday, July 19, 2013

EMBLEMS: POESIS

Roob’s Alchemy and Mysticism - source


- POESIS - 

1. Straight Tip to All Cross Coves - Francois Villon, translated by William Henley
2. Jabberwocky - Lewis Carroll
3. Funeral Blues - W. H. Auden
4. Second Coming - W. B. Yeats
5. Bright Star - J. Keats
6. And Death Shall Have No Dominion - Dylan Thomas
7. Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night - Dylan Thomas
8. Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae - E. Dowson
9. To Be Or Not To Be - Shakespeare
10. The Congo - Vachel Lindsay
11. The Windhover - G. M. Hopkins
12. Sonnet XIX - Shakespeare
13. Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29 - Rilke
14. Sonnet XXX - Shakespeare
15. Buddha in Glory - Rilke
16. Sonnet CXXX - Shakespeare
17. Find Meat on Bones - Dylan Thomas
18. Sonnet CXLVII  - Shakespeare
19. Anecdote of a Jar - W. Stevens
20. Richard Cory - E. A. Robinson
21. Three Old Hermits - Yeats
22. In the Desert - Crane
23. Musee de Beaux Arts - Auden
24. Drinking Song - Yeats
25. Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening - Frost
26. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow - Shakespeare
27. Now is the Winter of Our Discontent - Shakespeare
28. Kubla Kahn - Coleridge
29. The Raven - Poe
30. Tyger Tyger Burning Bright - Blake
31. Ozymandius - Shelly
32. Death Be Not Proud - Donne
33. Because I Could Not Stop For Death - Dickinson
34. To His Coy Mistress - Marvell
35. London - Blake
36. Composed Upon Westminster Bridge - Wordsworth
37. Little Viennese Waltz - Lorca
38. Albatross - Baudelaire
39. Our revels now are ended - Shakespeare
40. Evening Harmony - Baudelaire
41. O Fortuna
42. Pater Noster
43. Sonnet XXIX - Shakespeare
44. God's Grandeur - Hopkins
45. Nocturne: Nothing is Heard - Villaurutia
46. Carrion Comfort - Hopkins
47. Tempest I 2 - Shakespeare
48. Richard II 3:2 - Shakespeare
49. Sonnets to Orpheus 1 - Rilke
50. Burning Inside - Carmina Burana - Orff
51. Todesfuge - Celan
52. Mythistorema 3 - Seferis
53. Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Coleridge
54. Ode on Melancholy - Keats
55. Ode to a Nightingale - Keats
56.
57.
58.
59.
60.
61.
62.
63.
64.
65. A Dirge by John Webster



At the Lake in East Texas, in front of the Memory Cathedral. I walk under a SCAFFOLDING, past a DRAGON curled close to a woodpile in the breezeway. There is an AIRPLANE in the sky, circling around the SPHINX. Above this is a single bright STAR. To the right is a field of DAISIES where a naked nun is PRAYING. She walks over and gives me a KISS. I give her a SKULL which she places in a BARREL. A FALCON grabs the skull out of the barrel and drops it into an enormous HOURGLASS where is it the size of a grain of sand. As each skull falls, a BELL rings, awakening Marcel Proust from this reverie over a COOKIE. He is looking at the BUDDHA, who opens his hand to reveal the SUN, which infolds into a ROSE. I slide a THERMOMETER out of the center of the ROSE and place it into a JAR. A BULLET falls out of the rose. I throw the bullet in the air and it becomes a BIRD, which transforms into a HEART with wings, which lands on the rear of a HORSE, startling it so much that one of its EYEs pops out and turns into the SNOWglobe from Citizen Kane. Inside the little cabin in the globe is a CANDLE. A DOG is startled by the sound of a woman suddenly playing a DULCIMER and barks at the candle blowing it out. The absolute night becomes a RAVEN which perches on the back of a TIGER. The tiger walks slowly past a vast pair of trunkless LEGS in the desert and into a field of POPPIES where it climbs into a CARRIAGE. The carriage rolls forward crushing a WORM under its wheel. A TEAR falls from the worm's eye into a RIVER which widens into a SEA. Above the sea, an ALBATROSS is flying around the GLOBE, upon which sits a blindfolded woman playing a VIOLIN. Behind her is the WHEEL of fortune. Beside this Jean Valjean eats a loaf of BREAD. He is standing next to a GATE. On the other side of the gate is his GHOST staring into a MIRROR. The ghost sees a world of BONES in reflection. This vision makes his eyes become PEARLS and it knows it is now the KING of the TEMPLE of FLESH. He rests his head in his Queen's lap where he suckles MILK from her breasts. The head turns to MARBLE and is atop at statue of the Ancient MARINER which stands beneath a vine laden with melancholy grapes in a vineyard where Keats' NIGHTINGALE sings.



Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Current Inventory



Poems

1. Straight Tip to All Cross Coves - Francois Villon, translated by William Henley
2. Jabberwocky - Lewis Carroll
3. Funeral Blues - W. H. Auden
4. Second Coming - W. B. Yeats
5. Bright Star - J. Keats
6. And Death Shall Have No Dominion - Dylan Thomas
7. Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night - Dylan Thomas
8. Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae - E. Dowson
9. To Be Or Not To Be - Shakespeare
10. The Congo - Vachel Lindsay
11. The Windhover - G. M. Hopkins
12. Sonnet XIX - Shakespeare
13. Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29 - Rilke
14. Sonnet XXX - Shakespeare
15. Buddha in Glory - Rilke
16. Sonnet CXXX - Shakespeare
17. Find Meat on Bones - Dylan Thomas
18. Sonnet CXLVII  - Shakespeare
19. Anecdote of a Jar - W. Stevens
20. Richard Cory - E. A. Robinson
21. Three Old Hermits - Yeats
22. In the Desert - Crane
23. Musee de Beaux Arts - Auden
24. Drinking Song - Yeats
25. Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening - Frost
26. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow - Shakespeare
27. Now is the Winter of Our Discontent - Shakespeare
28. Kubla Kahn - Coleridge
29. The Raven - Poe
30. Tyger Tyger Burning Bright - Blake
31. Ozymandius - Shelly
32. Death Be Not Proud - Donne
33. Because I Could Not Stop For Death - Dickinson
34. To His Coy Mistress - Marvell
35. London - Blake
36. Composed Upon Westminster Bridge - Wordsworth
37. Little Viennese Waltz - Lorca
38. Albatross - Baudelaire
39. Our revels now are ended - Shakespeare
40. Evening Harmony - Baudelaire
41. O Fortuna
42. Pater Noster
43. Sonnet XXIX - Shakespeare
44. God's Grandeur - Hopkins
45. Nocturne: Nothing is Heard - Villaurutia
46. Carrion Comfort - Hopkins
47. Tempest I 2 - Shakespeare
48. Richard II 3:2 - Shakespeare
49. Sonnets to Orpheus 1 - Rilke
50. Burning Inside - Carmina Burana - Orff
51. Todesfuge - Celan
52. Mythistorema 3 - Seferis
53. Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Coleridge
54. Ode on Melancholy - Keats
55. Ode to a Nightingale - Keats



Songs

1. Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold - Townes Van Zandt
2. Simple Song - Lyle Lovett
3. One Way Street - M. Lanegan
4. If Only I Could Fly - Blaze Foley
5. Clay Pigeons - Blaze Foley
6. Drunken Poet's Dream - R. W. Hubbard
7. Dirt in the Ground - T. Waits
8. She Left Me for Jesus - Hayes Carl
9.  Time, the Revelator -  G. Welch
10. Snake Song - T. Van Zandt
11. I Had to Tell You - Roky Erikson
12. Westfall - Okkervil River
13. The Drugs Don't Work - The Verve
14. People Who Died - Jim Carroll
15. Jesus Gonna Be Here - Tom Waits

Prose

1. Gettysburg Address - A. Lincoln
2. Preamble to the Constitution - Four Freedoms - FDR
3. Annual Message to Congress - December 1, 1862 - Lincoln
4. Vishnu Sleeps - Heinrich Zimmer
5. Hitler's Speech - Steiner
6. Third Man Cuckoo Clock - Welles
7. Sinners at the Hands of an Angry God Excerpt - Edwards
8. Strike the Sun - Ahab - Melville
9.
10.