Script for Palace of Memory: East Wall, Right Shelf

Several new readers of the blog have appeared, who are interested in Palace of Memory technique, so I’m going to give a series of short scripts over the next few days to help build up the range of spaces and tools that practitioners have available to them.  Thanks to my friend T., I may be able to get these scripts recorded shortly, although probably not this weekend.

Hello class.  Today, we want to take a few deep breaths, sit up straight, and arrive in the Palace of Memory.  We’re facing the east wall as we arrive, with the door in the middle of the wall, and painted a bright yellow, with the bookcase on the left and the bookcase on the right.  The bookshelf on the left has the sculpture-bust of Herodotus at the top, and the bookshelf on the right has a sculpture-bust of Shakespeare.  The left bookshelf holds stories from history, and the right bookshelf holds stories from literature.

We’ve developed a model of the left-hand shelf in other scripts, so I want you to step over to the right-hand shelf of the East Wall in your imagination.  This has the bust of Shakespeare at the top.  The next shelf down has a small statue of Shakespeare on it, but this time his full body, and he is standing with a human skull in his hand, to remind you of the play HAMLET.  On this shelf, there is a label that says “English Literature” in your own handwriting.  Next to the statue of Shakespeare standing, is a very thick book called “The complete works of Shakespeare.”  It is pink, and it has illustrations in it of all the scenes from Shakespeare that you know.  Take the book down from the shelf, and flip through it.  You will see that it contains all of the plays, in alphabetical order, with a short synopsis or summary of each play, and a list of the characters in the play, and then the five acts of each play, each divided into scenes.  At the end of the book is a section labeled “sonnets”, and there are one hundred fifty-four pages, with one sonnet on each page.  Then there is another section called “Other Poems”, with Shakespeare’s minor works in it.

Put Shakespeare’s complete works back on the shelf. The next book is the King James Bible.  If you take that down from the shelf, you will see that it is a brick-red color, with gold lettering on the spine that says “Holy Bible”, and the letters “King James Version” in smaller letters just below that.  It is useful in our society to know quotations from the Bible, and though I won’t make you memorize any of them, it is good to have a place to store such quotations in your memory palace.  Take the Holy Bible down from the shelf, and flip through it.  The book has two big sections. The first is much larger than the second, and it is called the Old Testament. Flip the book open to the start of the Old Testament. The first five books in the Old Testament are called Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  The second is called the New Testament.   Flip to the start of the New Testament.  The first five books of the New Testament are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and The Acts of the Apostles.  

Put the Holy Bible back on the shelf, and take down the next book.  It is black, and has white lettering, and a picture of a man’s head in chain mail on the front cover.  The title is Beowulf, and the translation is by Seamus Heaney.  If you open up the book, you will see that this ancient English poem is in the original language on the left side of each page, and in modern English on the right.  This is one of the earliest poems in English, and a good practice text for longer memorization work.  Put it back on the shelf.

Look at the next book.  It is called The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.  Don’t take it down, because you shouldn’t try to memorize any of this just now, but you should know that it should go here when you decide to memorize parts of it.

Look at the next book.  It is called English Poets. If you open it, you will find many poems.  They’re all going to be a little fuzzy right now, but there are a lot of poems in this book, and they will come into sharp contrast when you memorize and store poetry here that was written by poets from England.   Find the part of the book where the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge is located. There is a picture of him here, and his dates: 1772 to 1834.  There are two big poems here, and a number of shorter ones. The first and very long one is called “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”  Skip over that one for now. The second, and much shorter one, is called “Kubla Khan.”  Under this is a subtitle, that says “A vision within a dream. A fragment.”  And then there follows the poem.  The first few lines sound like this:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Place this book of English poets back on the shelf.  Then, step back from the shelf with Shakespeare at the top, and look at the whole stack of bookshelves.  The top shelf is labeled English Literature.  The next shelf down is labeled American Literature.  At the left end of this shelf is a small statuette of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow seated in a chair.  The first book on this shelf is “Hiawatha”, and the next one is “Poems” by Emily Dickenson.

[The next shelf down is labeled Canadian Literature.]

The next shelf down is labeled “English grammar” and the first book on this shelf is a Dictionary.

The next shelf down has a small picture of the famous Pablo Picasso print of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.  THe shelf is labeled Spanish Literature and Grammar”.  All that you know about the Spanish language goes on this shelf.

The next shelf has a small statue of the French playwright Moliére on it.  The Shelf is labeled “French Literature and Grammar.”

The next shelf down has a statue of Julius Caesar on it, wearing a toga with one arm outstretched.  The shelf is labeled, “Latin Literature and grammar.”  Halfway down the shelf is another statue of Cicero, again in a toga, but seated in a chair, and the first book after him is titled “Latin Grammar.”

In this same way, you should add a shelf or a series of shelves for every language you ever learn, and store away quotations, songs, stories and grammatical information about languages — marking each shelf with pictures or statues, and storing information according to the visual system.

If you are a visitor from another site, and this interests you, and you want more detailed instructions, please let me know.  I will likely continue to develop this system for my students, but it would be good to know if others are using it, and using it according to the schema I’m developing here.

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  1. “Find the part of the book where the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge is located. There is a picture of him here, and his dates: 1772 to 1834.”
    As this library grows what techniques do you use to remember dates associated with different people, or even the dates that certain works were published? do they become harder with the more information you have in each book to not only find each person but the dates associated with them? also, what techniques do you use to memorize poems such as “Kubla Khan”?

    • Caleb, welcome!

      I’m finding that Memory of Things vs. Memory of Words is the limiting factor here — by which I mean, it’s possible to construct an almost unlimited number of images designed to store combinations of names, dates and events — stories, if you will. So it’s relatively easy to store a picture or image of Samuel T. Coleridge in the right place, along with his dates — an old sailor peeking out over one shoulder, and Kubla Khan peering over the other. The more that you can do to remember the SHAPE of the numbers rather than the numbers themselves, the easier this gets. Now you have an image that helps you store the names of his two major poems, and his dates maybe are embroidered in gold thread on his shoulders.

      But, even the author of Ad Herennium, one of the classical books on rhetoric which includes information about the palace of memory technique, said you still had to memorize poems “in the usual way” by rote memorization, repeating them over and over, until they became fixed in memory…. HOWEVER… that same author, as well as numerous other authors from the Renaissance, also say that those who are fully versed and comfortable in their Palace of Memory have the ability to store and recall complete poems and stories and speeches word for word, even after only one hearing or seeing. This is clearly an advanced technique that requires a LOT of practice with the more basic material.

      That said, there are poems and songs and stories that I memorized as a kid, which I’d sort of forgotten. But now, I find that I can put a book on the bookshelf of “Camp songs” (it’s even this little brown book that all the Christian camps when I was a kid used), and I find I can open up that book and find songs and poems I learned long ago. So even though I learned these things by rote and repetition long ago, I can consciously insert them into the Palace and recall them again immediately — even though I haven’t thought of them in years.

      I hope this answers your question.

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