Poetic memory

Drew and Matt at Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, Maui, 1991

Drew and Matt at Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, Maui, 1991

“The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful.”
Milan Kundera

Memory, we are told, is highly selective and not always accurate.  We may remember a time or a place as being so full of wonder that it’s hard to imagine a reality that could live up to our recollection of it.  Maybe we are looking back on a mentally enhanced version of what actually happened, as if it was retouched in some sort of cerebral Photoshop.

Or maybe not.  Sometimes, as in the photo above, we have clues that our memories are not mistaken; in the words of Dave Barry, we are not making this up. Sometimes the poetry was present from the beginning, not composed over time by nostalgic delusions about a magical moment frozen in our consciousness.

I think Kundera is right about the poetic memory.  It’s a sort of neurological scrapbook; the repository of all that has made life wonderful for us, and when the present moment becomes almost unbearable, we can wander into that corner of the mind, and see the colors and hear the lovely cadences that can’t be captured by grammatically correct sentences.

What scenes from your past sprang to mind when you saw the words “poetic memory?” What verses will be added today?

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. MaryAnn

    What a great shot of the boys! The photo you took of me in the rain, holding your umbrella, behind your home in the gorgeous forest came to mind instantly!
    (Quite a run-on sentence.) It was such fun!
    Wishing you & Matt a beautiful, loving day on Thanksgiving!
    God bless you!

    • Thank you, Mary Ann! I had forgotten that photo. Compared to how many photos I used to take, I hardly take any now. But I’m glad I captured that one! Hope you had a lovely holiday. Matt and I spent Thanksgiving here at home, just the two of us, and it was quite lovely and restful.

  2. How true, Julia. when I was a boy, I grew up in a neighborhood project of various backgrounds. We had a hill in our backyard that we would sleighride down in the winter. It seemed so large and exciting then. I returned there as an adult and the hill was not a mountain but a mole hill. We can conclude that the bigger and older we get those things of the past are not as we remembered them to be. Once so majestic and impressive to a young enthusiastic imaginative mind.
    It is best at times not to return to a place so fondly held in heart and mind. For with age so too comes jadedness to spoil such wonderful uplifting memories which bring such needed comfort with the passing years.

    • Alan, that is one of the lessons my father tried very hard to impress on me from an early age…”you cannot go back.” I’ll never forget how shocked I was when, as a teenager, I revisited the elementary school where I had attended second grade, and discovered that the chalkboards were hanging so low as to be practically touching the floor! Of course, I had not remembered them that way at all!! There must be some sort of balance wherein we can see the past more clearly, from an adult point of view, and yet still not be jaded or cynical. Perhaps part of the answer lies in having unalloyed gratitude for all that was beautiful about times gone by. Though there may be some who have NO beautiful memories of childhood, for most of us I suspect it’s a mixed bag, with many treasures sparkling among the mundane or outright painful moments. So when I visit the past, I like to make it a treasure hunt, not an inquisition in which I find everyone guilty of doing something that bothered or hurt or damaged me. I like to increase the power of the joyful times that are one of our primary comforts in old age. All that to say, YES! I agree with you!

      • Julia, I think good parents, of which we were both so fortunate to have, who share their wisdom with us is so beneficial in being able to hold fast to the good experiences and learn from the bad. For to forget the first offers no warmth or comfort and to deny the second only keeps it in hiding as a specter to come forth in an untimely manner to tarnish a once thought to be balanced and secure outlook on life.

        • Alan, that’s so true. I never thought of denial as a goblin in hiding, waiting to pounce, but on thinking the analogy over, it seems an apt one. What scares me is that we can be in denial of something and not even know it. But denial, like grief, often has to be processed gradually. I guess awareness of it is only the first step.

  3. Good morning, Julia! The dead-end road that ran between my childhood home and the Mississippi River was called “Willow Lane.” The other end of Willow Lane was about half a mile away, near my best friend’s house. I think just the name of the road is enchanting, but in my memory I can recall many times that I imagined my bicycle as a horse (I loved horses) galloping down Willow Lane.
    Thanks for promoting that lovely memory!

    • Susan, what a lovely mental image of you on that bike. I could not help wondering…were there actual willow trees there? I always wished for a willow tree! (Did you read the book Blue Willow by Doris Gates, which was a Newberry Honor Book in 1941? That was one of my earliest memories of a book taking me to a world I had never experienced myself.)

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