Memorizing Mandelshtam

Re-reading Glyn Maxwell’s On Poetry, I took special note of this following passage, which appears just before a section break.

A memorized poem can be passed to you intact. I think this makes the written poem unique, in terms of our relationship with its materials—by which I mean the black (something there) and the white (nothing there). The Stalin regime could destroy Osip Mandelstam, but not the poems his widow Nadezhda had learned by heart. That’s something and nothing showing their true colors.

Compare this with what I wrote on the 15th:

At one time I was in love with the idea of the church calendar, because it marked time and drew our individual, unremarkable lives into a pattern, and a pattern shared by others. I have wanted to memorize poetry for the same reasons, but as far as I got was memorizing two Osip Mandelshtam poems, and nothing else. They are not there for my recall now, but I will admit, they have been present to my thought, shaped memory. They, even though I have neglected them, are still filling my consciousness beyond the immediate circumstances of any forgettable day, and they cause me to reflect from time to time on the man and his struggling life and how his wife memorized his verse lest it be destroyed by the Stalinist regime.

Two things to note: 1) On Poetry is a book I’ve read all the way through once, and re-read a bit further than this passage a second time, most recently at least 3 years ago. 2) I was aware of and memorizing Mandelshtam at least 8 years ago, well before On Poetry was first published.

I find it interesting that in my journal entry of the 15th I was talking about the sort of psychic influence of having memorized Mandelshtam, and ended the thought with a reflection Nadezhda’s remarkable preservation of his poetry. What I wrote, completely unconscious of the passage from On Poetry, managed to strongly mirror Glyn Maxwell’s passage. It’s interesting to ponder whether this is some forgotten influence—the most potent kind, I suppose—or if it is merely an easy parallel to make as the observation is so powerfully obvious.