In her 2015 Ray Mathew Lecture, novelist and essayist Andrea Goldsmith refers to W. H. Auden’s poem, ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’. The poem entered Goldsmith’s consciousness ‘in the very early days of the novel that would become, Reunion’ and she decided, ‘for reasons unrelated to the nascent work’, to memorise Auden’s poem. Once she had memorised it, she ‘would lie awake at night, silently reciting it over and over, thereby thwarting other more disturbing and anarchic thoughts’.
It was not until long after Goldsmith had finished Reunion that she became aware of the way Auden’s poem had ‘fed into’ her novel—the main characters of her narrative, a quartet of friends, had each turned away ‘quite leisurely’ from the various disasters of their lives.
This column reflects on Goldsmith's experience and the now, largely out-of-fashion, practice of memorising poetry.
(Note: the quotes above are from Goldsmith's lecture. The lecture, 'Private Passions, Public Exposure', is available on the website of the National Library of Australia.)