Monday, March 5, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem One (Lee)

Painting: Mnemosyne 
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I’m excited! Today marks the start of The Mnemosyne Weekly (click here for pronunciation). If you’re wondering what that means, it’s simple: I’ve decided to memorize one poem a week, and I’m inviting you to jump in my chariot and come along for the ride.

The poets may invoke the muses when they write, but we are invoking the muses’ mother, Mnemosyne, who is also the goddess of memory.  

Please feel free to participate at whatever level feels comfortable to you. Memorize when you can, and when you can’t (we all have those weeks!), join us for the discussion anyway. Some things you can do to participate are:

  • Memorize the poem with me
  • Comment on the poem (We will keep these comments positive. The point is to celebrate poetry.)
  • Suggest poems for memorization (But please do not suggest your own)
  • Share links to the weekly on your own blogs and social media sites
  • Share the weekly with family, students, and friends
  • Share any information you know about the poem or poet

Our first poem is the very beautiful (and short) “One Heart” by Li-Young Lee. It’s from a collection called Book of My Nights, published by BOA Editions on September 1, 2001. As well, here is a link to an interview in which Li-Young Lee talks about memory: "An Interview with Li-Young Lee." Enjoy!


Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day. 
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

*Note* When posting, quoting from, or otherwise using poetry online or in any format, please be sure to honor the “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Poetry.”


  1. Beautiful to have this in me. I'm memorizing it. Thanks!

  2. So very thrilled to have you here, Sarah. I love your deep and witty mind and can't wait to hear what you have to say about the poems.

  3. When I read this poem it made me think of blue skies and the freedom of flight. The poem reminds me that even in freedom we are connected to every living thing.

    I enjoyed the interview as well and would love to hear Li-Young Lee read his poetry aloud. In the interview he says " poetry just by nature we're using language as silence." I agree with the interviewer that his poetry ushers one into the silence of meditation.

  4. This is one of my favorite Li-Young Lee poems and an early introduction to his work. I immediately purchased two collections, one which included a CD of his recordings.

    This poem finds an "aha" moment in nearly every line. If this poem were calligraphy the birds would be a fine press of ink fading into the tips of freedom.

    Look at the birds. Even flying
    is born

    out of nothing.

    What a brilliant thought. Flying is born out of nothing, as creation is born out of nothing and this applies across the universe and is especially relevant to artists. We begin with nothing and create the flight of aesthetics. Just beautiful.

    The first sky
    is inside you, open

    Now the first sky is inside you. Wow, another mind blowing line that EXPANDS the readers space so that the external and internal link metaphysically and we feel huge and suddenly devoid of anything but space.

    at either end of day.
    The work of wings

    was always freedom, fastening

    The work of wings was always freedom. This is very Rilkean to me. All by itself it is a loaded epiphany.
    Yes, we say yes.

    one heart to every falling thing.

    Fastening one heart to every falling thing. Don't we want to help all those falling things. Our heart reaches out to catch them. The love for humanity touches our very core. What better place to end?

    Thank you for this first poem. It's an easy piece to memorize. My memory is very poor even for my own poems but you have presented a challenge. I'd like to know how people commit poetry to memory. I believe it's a few sentences at a time. One way is to read the poem to yourself and record it. Burn it to CD and then listen to it in the car.

    1. Careful what you ask for, Lois:"I'd like to know how people commit poetry to memory." PERSONALLY I have been enjoyed with committing poetry -beginning long ballads(sung acapella). Music is easier. Rhyme is a key (if there is rhyme); the most basic technique is to begin to learn a poem "by heart", don't fail to start, continue and don't stop until it is done. A big help is, LOVE the work/poem at the start; I have found that if I LOVE a poem or song enough to hear it over and over, I am completely joyed to have the process of assimilating it for my own "ownership". For me, I have often made strides in memorization by WRITING the poem or song - I suspect this is idiomatic to me - I am very text-oriented. Further, SPEAK the work, the poem OUT LOUD - speak it to a wall, or an imaginary audience - but Speak it so you hear as well as "think" - and speak any/every word & line until you feel it is your lover [or, alternately: until you feel you are "its" lover] - you will likely feel embarrassment "turn on" in this process - probably have felt a twinge already at the thought! but with persistence you will gain several supporters: the author, the spirit of the poem, one or more muses, your friends who detect your secret love affair, and your higher aesthetic self, possible also an angel and muse. You will feel the support - don't bother to count (is my advice). Do not be afraid to love your own enjoyment and performance; sometimes you may be well advised to allow yourself to be moved to tears or other emotional, passionate energy by the communion with art [this may most easily be done in private, late hours or Saturday mornings or any suitably appointed time/space. Also "One way is to read the poem to yourself and record it. Burn it to CD and then listen to it in the car." AND SPEAK IT IN DUET WITH YOUR OWN RECORDING ;) -
      Once you have first mastered the memory the fun REALLY begins - you may gain THE freedom and joy of being able to try variations of inflection and expression which bring new energies -and also know the huge joy of being able to do the same sweet loved experience simple & the same, any time.
      At this point you may gain a new joy of sharing performance with audiences- thus enjoying many.
      End of this small esssay re: HOW [PEOPLE]1 person, me has COMMITTed POETRY TO MEMORY.
      for example: E.E. Cummings -
      i thank you, god for most this amazing:
      day~ for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and a blue, true dream of sky, and for everything
      which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.
      I who have died am alive again today! and this is the sun's birthday and the birth
      day of life, and love and Wings:and ..."
      end of[first part of]example. here is a link: Okay, Lois ... that is some sketch of how I have "memorized" poetry - mostly taken from actual personal practice. It is not everythink (sic) I have to say, but already stretches the bounds of propriety to post on another's thread. [please forgive the strain, Melissa - you hit a "passion" button of mine.]
      p.s. for eveyone reading this far - please note that this is not intended to be applied to "a poem every week" - unless it were in the context of a serious sabbatical retreat.

      Melissa - you rock with your dedication and glorious radiance of spiritual communications [including poetry].

    2. Tom - Thanks for your "essay" on memorizing poetry. I think this will be a great help to many people. I am indeed falling in love with these poems week by week and sharing intimate moments with them. In the beginning, I was just memorizing them a couple of lines at a time, but now I am writing them by hand in my journal, reciting them as I vacuum. To continue your metaphor, I am swooning over them and thinking about them all the time like you do with a lover.

      And thank you for your kind comment. After reading your comment, I'd have to say you rock too!

    3. Melissa, thanks - your gracious acknowledgement manifests a greatness of spirit, leaves me welcome, fortunate; few communicants convey so perfectly, so immediately an acceptance, comprehension, and understanding of what I said. The meaning of "My personal Yehida" (a very new word to me) begins to infuse my sense of universe. Thank you again.

  5. Paula, I also agree with the interviewer that Lee's poetry "ushers one into the silence of meditation." There's a beautiful, spacious, quiet stillness to the poem, and it settles into the reader in a way that cannot be denied. The meditative quality, and the suggestion that there is a sky inside us is what made me decide I had to memorize this poem. I wanted to always hold that sky inside me - along with the wings, the freedom, the act of flying, both the ends of day, and of course, nothingness.

    Lois, I love how you looked at the poem line by line. Thanks for taking the time to do that. Yes, yes - the poem has that "aha" moment in nearly every line! So true. And the lines and concepts are so gently juxtaposed that we are held within them simultaneously, never leaving one behind to move onto the next.

    You asked about how people memorize poems. In my case, that's a funny story. I can't stand how long it takes me to blow dry my hair in the morning, and I was thinking of cutting it off when I remembered something interesting from Benjamin Franklin's autobiography. He said that he hated wasting the time it took to go to the outhouse, so he though of philosophical topics to ponder while he was out there. It occurred to me then that I could memorize a poem in the time it took me to blow dry my hair in a week, so I started taping a poem to my mirror to memorize as I got ready in the mornings. Soon I was enjoying my blow drying time, and I was getting so much out of memorizing the poems that I decided I wanted to share the experience with others, so The Mnemosyne Weekly was born.

  6. Thanks for introducing me to this poet! Brilliant! The lines that stood out for me were, "the first sky is inside you, open..." everything in this life resides within us, it's a matter of being open and to soar like the birds, for the "work of wings has always been freedom" to fly and be free. Most importantly, to just BE!!!! We forget we are connected to everything in the cosmos and poems like this are a great reminder of that interconnectedness.
    Now on to Emily Dickinson- can't wait!

  7. Yes!To BE!! So happy to have you here, Appy!

  8. I am a bit (no, a lot) late to the party I realize, however, this first poem refreshed my memory of the gift of flight, and how alive t made me feel, as well how blessed I was to experience it during a part of life sometime ago. Beautiful selection, and Thank you.
    Scott Lutz

  9. Late is fine. Feel free to leave comments anytime! So happy that the poem reminded you of joyous times!

  10. Yay!

    I was wondering if anyone else had had the idea of learning a poem a week and then blogging about it. You're the first person I've found, Melissa. Very exciting. Do you know of anyone else, who's doing this?

    I will be back here soon to read all 18 of your posts and will also link to you on my page.

    If you're SKYPE-able and ever fancy reciting to me one of the poems you've learnt by heartand talking about it for my other lit-cast project (, it would be great to have you for the programme.

    Warm wishes


  11. Steve - It's wonderful to hear from you! I don't know of anyone else who is doing this, but I am headed over to check out your site now and would love to recite a poem for your project. Thanks for finding me!