Twenty years ago a man of some years would regale us with the poetry he had memorized in school. He lamented that kids didn't have to get things by heart the way they used to - for their own good. Twenty years later a headline has caught up with him: ''Use of Memorization in Schools Fading.'' The article notes that now the multiplication tables are the only memorized school material many students have in common. And why bother with them as long as the memory in your pocket calculator is working?
Memorizing as a substitute for learning would be a step back to the days of rote. But memorizing as a means of hanging on to fun or treasures is too good to disappear. Watching young people mouth the words of unintelligible records, anyone would know they are still capable of memorizing something. Why not Shakespeare or the Psalms? Or Lewis Carroll or Ogden Nash? Or Emily Dickinson or T.S. Eliot?
Speaking of Shakespeare, a certain bygone professor required long passages to be memorized not simply for recitation but for writing out - with even every point of punctuation perfect. Here was a hard but wonderful way to grasp vocabulary, style, meaning, and detail.
And he was just one of the teachers to whom generations of students could sing, ''Thanks for the Memory,'' including all the commas, of course.