FMM 10 13 17 The Allure of Alliteration

“I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of Beauty.”~ Edgar Allan Poe.

As children we were taught the art of remembering by a number of tricks.  Even without big theories of pedagogy, the old time teachers knew that if you presented information in rhyme or in song, it laid down permanent tracks in our memory.  Whether it was nursery rhymes or Christmas Carols, most of us have no difficulty reciting those old poems, or singing every word of childhood songs.  When you were raised ‘old school’ you even ‘sang’ your times tables.  Who can forget the sound of a Jamaican primary school class reciting their times tables in sing-song repetition?  Most of us who were taught that way cannot get stuck when presented with big numbers to multiply (without a calculator) or divide (without a calculator).  All we have to do is mumble quietly to ourselves ‘ eight fours thirty two; eight fives forty’ and we’re good to go.

Of course, in these modern times we are enlightened and have technology at our fingertips. We have theories of education and theories of learning and must demonstrate that we use evidence based practice in the classroom. And yet, when it comes to learning, there is nothing like a pattern, a repetition, to help us retain big pieces of information. Mnemonics, those naughty devices, use first letters to create a memorable sentence which will aid in recollecting the twelve pairs of cranial nerves, or a group of cardiac drugs.  Visual graphic organizers are available to encourage learners to create flow charts and Venn diagrams to pull information from dry texts and manipulate strange concepts into noteworthy chains of facts.  It takes some effort on the part of the learner, but that engagement with the material pays off in the longterm.

Yes, students, learning requires effort, requires an active participation, a desire, a thirst and inquisitiveness that our instant connection to an electronic know-it-all seems to quench.  Why should a generation used to instant gratification expend that time and energy when Mr. (or Mrs. Google) can answer that question? It requires even more creativity and innovation on the part of the teacher to break that reflex, that instant search, to boot up that critical thinking appendage of the brain that if we are not careful may soon become redundant.  I can only imagine the pain of the English Language teachers, who are trying to convince text speaking teens to learn parts of speech, grammar and punctuation.

Just as a sedentary nation has learnt that sitting, driving, and being immobile for long periods is bad for your health, perhaps we can start a movement to stimulate brain health.  Perhaps we can challenge minds used to instant, convenient responses to reach once more for a dictionary.  Just as gyms have replaced the everyday exercise that the working man thought was a routine part of life we can create mental gymnasiums to reactivate the lazy memory lanes of our mind.  Maybe we should go back to memorizing phone numbers once more!

The phrase that sparked my theme this week came from a window salesman.  He was demonstrating storm impact windows. In the aftermath of triple threats this September, we have become eager victims, ready to splurge on items designed to protect and preserve us.  So this young man explained that this window, under impact of random projectiles could be ‘broken but not breached’.  I was puzzled, I could not see how a window that could be broken during a storm was a selling point.  But then he repeated (seeing my crinkled forehead): ‘broken, but not breached’.  Aha! The light went off: breached! (Thesaurus: ruptured, penetrated, opened).  But more than the concept, the words enchanted me.  I kept repeating the phrase, and said out loud: “Sounds like a Friday Morning Message to me!” And my son pointed out: ‘you do love an alliteration’.

Which of course led me off into poetry and memory and tongue twisters like ‘She sells sea shells on the sea shore’. One of my favorite poets is Dylan Thomas. ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’. His love of words, of the sound of words, of not just the rhythm and the rhyme but the repetition of sounds and syllables and consonants has given a host of scholars so much to pick apart.  He used alliteration and assonance (a type of rhyming within a line, a repetition of similar sounding vowels or syllables) to make his poetry music to the ears.  He crafted his verses like a sculptor, rewriting and reworking until not just the sound but even the appearance pleased his eye.  He had poems that were shaped like an hour glass, or like a diamond.  His lilting adjectives lit up the lines.  As you can see he is one of those writers who inspires imitation!  But even when his meaning is obscure, the arrangement of the words entertains.

‘All night afloat
On the silent sea we have heard the sound
That came from the wound wrapped in the salt sheet’


My thoughts of alliteration were also sparked by a phrase from a news report of the latest tragedy that fills the airwaves: ‘wind-whipped wild fires’.  I am apparently not the only one who treasures a timely alliteration.  Not only is the phrase poetic, it is also efficient in the way it condenses all of the necessary information into four words.  This week I decided to celebrate the joy of our ability to communicate, to reminisce on the rhymes of our childhood, to think of the beauty of well crafted wordsmanship, rather than obsess on the latest obscene outburst from crass attention grabbers; or weep over the harsh tragedies that so many are fleeing from.

On this rainy Friday morning, I hope you can hold on to something beautiful, and celebrate the wonder of our world, and the capacity of the human mind.  And just for fun, read a poem! And pick up the phone to call someone, a lot may be lost in an abrupt text!  Have a wonderful weekend, Family!

One Love!


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