Humpty Dumpty Defeats Dementia
It was a shock, I have to concede. The Duchess of Cornwall, Gyles Brandreth and I have something in common. It’s what we all do in bed, in the dark of night. No, not that. We quietly recite poetry to relax, to switch off from the day past or the day to come, when sleep evades us. What I didn’t realise was how valuable poetry is otherwise to us oldies; Humpty Dumpty defeats dementia sums it up.
Over the years, I have memorised nine poems plus a large chunk of The Ancient Mariner. Okay, as an old fart, those poems are mostly Wordsworth and Coleridge. One poem recently memorised is by Ted Hughes and might be called modern. I was surprised to read that we are just as capable of memorising a poem at seventy as at seven. The problem is, we don’t memorise poems as we grow older. Yet, the evidence is clear; memorising a poem will definitely prevent dementia and might just help with sleep.
I can hear cries of elitism; poetry is for nerds. This is wrong for anyone who recalls nursery rhymes, a kind of poetry. We used these to develop our speech and acoustic skills. Jack and Jill went up the hill, was optimal for brain development as a child. So important indeed, that most people remember it seventy years later. Yet, optimal development still applies in old age. All you need to do is select a poem you like and memorise it. Saying it aloud, alone if you prefer, is even more beneficial. Maybe the more innovative ones could create a poem called, ‘Humpty Dumpty Defeats Dementia’.
Stone Age learning
In my book My Pagan Ancestor Zuri, I record how important women were in developing language. This was because women would have spent their time with children. Although there was no education as such, I believe they will have created Stone Age word games, rhythms for language. As for sleep, Zuri will have slept well, exhausted by her labours. No need for her to recite words in bed to enable sleep. Coleridge knew sleep problems because he wrote, ‘O sleep it is a gentle thing, beloved from pole to pole.’