Look, I didn’t want to write a blog post about studying - it’s all I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks, and God knows I could use a break. But unfortunately, just like my looming English exams have taken over everything else in my life, they’re going to take over this blog as well. One of my modules this semester is on Victorian poetry, and memorising all that heavily ornate language is pretty hard going. It’s taken hours of my life trying to memorise the first four lines of Alfred Tennyson’s Maud, and I’m pretty sure those are hours I’m not getting back.
The one exception to this, however, is Thomas Hardy’s Darkling Thrush. I know that one off by heart, because I learned it for a (much lower stakes) exam in high school. Now, at first I just took that for granted, and chalked it up as a studying win. But recently, I’ve been thinking more seriously about it. I haven’t read - or even thought about - The Darkling Thrush since I was about sixteen; that’s over four years ago, but I can still recite it off by heart, while I can barely remember some of the stuff I studied earlier this semester. Now, you might be wondering what the relevance of this is (other than humblebragging about my memory), but I think my weird relationship with late 19th century poets feeds quite strongly into my Jewish (or Jew-ish) identity.
My lifestyle is pretty secular. Most of my university friends with any sort of religious identity are Christians. As a result, I don’t really talk about Judaism too much either at university, or with my totally non-observant family. But somehow, the combined legacy of interminable cheder lessons and feverish preparations for my barmitzvahmean I can reel off facts about everything from the meaning of the Purim story to the behaviour of Balak son of Zippor that I learned about for my portion. (I also remember, with perfect clarity, the dude who sat next to me at cheder turning round and calling me a pillock for literally no reason, but let’s not get into that.)
But what’s the significance of this? I mean, sure, it makes it much easier to come up with topics for these articles, but what can you say for a religious and cultural identity built out of things that my younger self learned when he would rather have been doing literally anything else?
Well, a fair bit actually. See, I may have resented having to pace around my kitchen trying to learn The Darkling Thrush off by heart, but it’s still a really good poem, with layers of meaning that I’m only able to grasp because I’m returning to it now. I’m not sure either my cheder teachers, or the deeply agnostic Hardy, would appreciate the comparison, but Judaism is like that. Sometimes, we remember things for a reason.
Jamie Rodney is one of the JC's regular student bloggers for 2017-18. He is studying English at St Andrews University