Off by heart

 

Last night I watched the first part of Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet with my new flatmate. I didn’t watch it all because I figured it’s early days for crying in front of a virtual stranger, and Romeo and Juliet ALWAYS gets me, for some reason. I was seventeen when Baz Luhrman’s version came out, and even though you I knew what was going to happen, I still sobbed through the final scenes.

I loved Romeo and Juliet when I was a teenager, and watching the first part of the film, I realised that I’d learned whole speeches from the play, and that I could still, for the most part, remember them. I’ve never studied Romeo and Juliet, but I learned parts of it anyway. Nothing like a story of teen tragedy to get the melancholic adolescent juices going.

I memorised all kinds of things when I was growing up – poems, bits of the Bible, plays, songs, quotes from novels – some for school, some because I liked them. Now I don’t ever memorise anything. If I read something I like, I don’t even copy it out like I used to.

But I think if something moves us, or stirs us, we should take the time to learn it by heart. Learning something off by heart weaves it into the fabric of who you are. The sentiment captured in someone else’s words becomes part of you, and when the appropriate moment arises, their words can become your own.

Memorising something also takes time. And since time is precious, the things you devote your time to become valuable.

I don’t generally make New Year’s resolutions, but if I have one for this year, it’s to learn beautiful words off by heart, so that when I find them I don’t just read them and move along, but make them part of me, in the hope that the words will make me, and the way I see the world, more beautiful too.

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