Another day, another massive data leak. Someone with bad intentions now has access to one or more of your online accounts. You should change your password. Why not make this perennial inconvenience of modern life an opportunity for committing a few edifying lines of verse to memory?
Rote memorization isn’t often taught in school anymore. It got a bad rap because it seemed to make children into parrots, not thinkers. But if you’ve ever heard someone recite entire poems or passages from literature, and tried to recall something you still carry in your head from your school days, you probably felt a touch of envy. Those with a ready command of Shakespeare or Whitman wouldn’t trade it for the hours spent in acquisition; nor would those who suffered through piano lessons practicing scales lose the Chopin and Brahms that live on in their fingers. Decades later, it seems only that which is drummed into us with repetition remains.
Why poetry? Memorization and recitation of beautiful verse puts complex vocabulary and rhythmic patterns at one’s mental fingertips. Cultivating one’s memory has other benefits. There’s an argument that to think critically and make connections, you need to hold knowledge in your head. You lose something by offloading your memory to Google.
How it works: Take a few lines of poetry and type only the first letters. Add a number and symbol of your choice at the end, followed by the first three letters of the service you’re using that password for. That way, if (or rather, when) your password from one account is compromised, the execrable hacker won’t be able to use the same password on other accounts.
Poetry in translation is tricky. For one thing, they are the translator’s words, not the poet’s. For another, famous works have many translations; if you need to look up the passage again, you might forget which translation you used. But if you want to roll the dice, why not start at the beginning? Here are the first lines of The Illiad, Robert Fagles translation:
Rage – Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses
Most services today require a capital letter, number and symbol. In poetry, capitalization is no problem (unless you pick E.E. Cummings). To satisfy the number and symbol requirement, pick whatever you want, just be consistent. Applying the keyboard’s first letter and its accompanying symbol, and the first three letters of a common local account name (“Cen” for Central Hudson), you get:
According to howsecureismypassword.com, that would take a computer 252 sextillion years to crack. Not bad!
Another famous translation, and a work of poetry in its own right, is the King James Bible. An appropriate verse might be:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
Which looks like this:
Switching over to English, there’s Shakespeare:
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy
Rhythmic sing-song lines are most conducive to memory; they make it less likely that you’ll leave a word out, even a small one.
Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Pope’s Essay on Criticism:
Good nature and good sense must ever join;
To err is human, to forgive, divine.
Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though
We could go on. And given how frequent data breaches are, we may need to!