Can you recommend passages to memorize?
March 15, 2012 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend passages I can memorize in Spanish, French, Italian, German, or Russian?

I'm trying to keep up the various languages I've studied over the years:
* Spanish
* French
* German
* Italian, and
* Russian

One thing I've found really helpful is memorizing a few sentences of something in the target language. I have a simplified reader of Tolstoy's "Nikita's Childhood" for Russian, a couple of plays by my favorite Spanish playwright (Buero Vallejo) for Spanish, and Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" in German, but I could use some other good sources.

Can you recommend some material in any of those languages that I can memorize?

For me, ideal passages would be:

- clearly and elegantly written
- medium difficulty or medium-advanced difficulty - harder than Dick and Jane, but easier than Shakespeare (except the Russian - medium-easy or medium would be better there; my Russian's pretty basic)
- publicly available: in the public domain or otherwise widely legally available on the web
- compelling - JFK's "we will go to the moon" rather than dry analysis
- not overly flowery; I prefer memorable prose over poetry
- reasonably modern - probably no earlier than 1850 or 1800 ... 21st Century is fine if it's easily available

I'm usually memorizing 20-80 words at a time, but I'm happy to work on longer pieces in chunks. Complete long works are fine, but I would especially appreciate pointers to specific shortish passages to focus on.

Bits of plays (especially monologs) or well-known speeches (like MLK speeches or Churchill's WWII speeches) would be great. Really evocative descriptive passages would also be good.

The more vocabulary and phrasing I could carry over into everyday conversation or thinking, the better.

Among my favorite English writers for these purposes would be Tom Stoppard and John McPhee, just to give you an idea of some styles I like.

posted by kristi to Education (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: According to my mom, memorizing the first stanza of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin was required for schoochildren in her generation:

"Мой дядя самых честных правил,
Когда не в шутку занемог,
Он уважать себя заставил
И лучше выдумать не мог.
Его пример другим наука;
Но, боже мой, какая скука
С больным сидеть и день и ночь,
Не отходя ни шагу прочь!
Какое низкое коварство
Полу-живого забавлять,
Ему подушки поправлять,
Печально подносить лекарство,
Вздыхать и думать про себя:
Когда же чорт возьмет тебя!"
posted by griphus at 9:33 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Faust's monologue from the opening of Goethe's Faust is pretty famous.
posted by jedicus at 9:43 AM on March 15, 2012

Best answer: The first paragraph of Siddhartha is the nicest chunk of German, and the rythmn and repetition and the fact that the adjective endings for once add to the meaning and the effect make it easy to learn:
Im Schatten des Hauses, in der Sonne des Flußufers bei den Booten, im Schatten des Salwaldes, im Schatten des Feigenbaumes wuchs Siddhartha auf, der schöne Sohn des Brahmanen, der junge Falke, zusammen mit Govinda, seinem Freunde, dem Brahmanensohn. Sonne bräunte seine lichten Schultern am Flußufer, beim Bade, bei den heiligen Waschungen, bei den heiligen Opfern. Schatten floß in seine schwarzen Augen im Mangohain, bei den
Knabenspielen, beim Gesang der Mutter, bei den heiligen Opfern, bei den Lehren seines Vaters, des Gelehrten, beim Gespräch der Weisen. Lange schon nahm Siddhartha am Gespräch der Weisen teil, übte sich mit Govinda im Redekampf, übte sich mit Govinda in der Kunst der
Betrachtung, im Dienst der Versenkung. Schon verstand er, lautlos das Om zu sprechen, das Wort der Worte, es lautlos in sich hinein zu sprechen mit dem Einhauch, es lautlos aus sich heraus zu sprechen mit dem Aushauch, mit gesammelter Seele, die Stirn umgeben vom Glanz des
klardenkenden Geistes. Schon verstand er, im Innern seines Wesens Atman zu wissen, unzerstörbar, eins mit dem Weltall.

The book is available from Project Gutenberg:
posted by runincircles at 9:51 AM on March 15, 2012

Best answer: I think Goethe is the traditional source of such material in German. (Erlkönig stands out in my mind.)

Getting away from poetry, Wladimir Kaminer's Russendisko might be the sort of thing you're lookng for. It seems to be a book that's relatively easy to find in libraries in the US.

Some other scattered ideas for German:
-there's a readily available (in the US) book called something like "Twentieth Century German Poetry", with collected poems and English translations
-Walter Benjamin's Berliner Kindheit um neunzehnhundert is another possibility, but perhaps harder to find in German
-If you want the Konjunktiv II, there's Brecht's Wenn die Haifische Menschen wären (PDF)
-I feel obligated (for personal reasons) to mention the poetry and writings of Günter Eich and Else Lasker-Schüler, but they're fairly hard to find unless you've got a university library (or a book buying budget)
posted by hoyland at 9:56 AM on March 15, 2012

Best answer: A suggestion for a passage in Italian, from Calvino’s Le Cittá Invisibili:

Marco Polo descrive un ponte, pietra per pietra.
- Ma qual è la pietra che sostiene il ponte? - chiede Kublai Kan.
- Il ponte non è sostenuto da questa o da quella pietra, - risponde Marco, - ma dalla linea dell'arco che esse formano.
Kublai Kan rimase silenzioso, riflettendo. Poi soggiunse: - Perché mi parli delle pietre? È solo dell'arco che mi importa.
Polo risponde: - Senza pietre non c'è arco.
posted by misteraitch at 10:02 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wikiquote pages in various languages could be a fairly good source of shorter passages. You can find them by prefixing the Wikipedia language code to the URL, for example to find Wikiquotes in Spanish:, and browsing around for people whose quotations you want to view. (And the codes would be, in your case: es, fr, de, it and ru.)
posted by tykky at 10:09 AM on March 15, 2012

Best answer: Moving along a parallel path, I like translating the same thing in English into a number of different languages. I especially like kid's books because they're short enough for me to memorize in English, but they're so varied in mood and plot and tone. I can recite Where The Wild Things Are in French, Spanish, and Swahili. It's a useful exercise for me because it makes me think about the way the languages themselves are structured and the best way to phrase things to match the style of the original book. The act of translation really makes it stick, and now I have a useful children's book memorized for any time I need to occupy small children. "Usiku mmoja, Max amevaa nguo yake ya mbwa msitu, na alifanya ukutuku na namna moja ... na namna nyingine."
posted by ChuraChura at 11:57 AM on March 15, 2012

Best answer: Daniil Kharms wrote lots of relatively easy and fun short stories & poems. This one's great b/c she reads it for you online:

Golubaia Tetrad' No. 10 (1937)

Жил один рыжий человек, у которого не было глаз и ушей. У него не было и волос, так что рыжим его называли условно.
Говорить он не мог, так как у него не было рта. Носа тоже у него не было.
У него не было даже рук и ног. И живота у него не было, и спины у него не было, и хребта у него не было, и никаких внутренностей у него не было. Ничего не было! Так что непонятно, о ком идет речь.
Уж лучше мы о нем не будем больше говорить.
posted by Lettuce_Leaves at 2:39 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Rilke wrote relatively short poems in both German and French.
posted by naturalog at 11:18 PM on March 15, 2012

Best answer: I used to know the first lines of A hundred years of solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez:
Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo. Macondo era entonces una aldea de veinte casas de barro y cañabrava construidas a la orilla de un río de aguas diáfanas que se precipitaban por un lecho de piedras pulidas, blancas y enormes como huevos prehistóricos. El mundo era tan reciente, que muchas cosas carecían de nombre, y para mencionarlas había que señalarlas con el dedo.
posted by elgilito at 1:31 AM on March 16, 2012

Best answer: You'll impress native Russian speakers if you can recite a verse or two of Russian poetry - I particularly like Pushkin's "Я вас любил: любовь ещё, быть может" - it rhymes which makes it easier to remember, and the wording is sublime.
posted by scrambles at 10:23 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Outstanding suggestions, every single one.

Thank you!
posted by kristi at 3:38 PM on March 17, 2012

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