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Cherishing the Awesomeness of our Memory

by St. Augustine
in The Confessions of St. Augustine

In memory, all things are kept distinct and according to kind. Each is brought in through it own proper entrance: as light and colors and bodily shapes through the eyes; all varieties of sound through the ears; all odors by the portal of the nostrils; and by the sense diffused throughout the whole body, what is hard, what is soft, what is hot or cold, smooth or sharp, heavy or light, whether outside or inside the body. . . . .

All these enter in, each by its own gateway, and are laid away within our memory. The things themselves do not enter there, but images of things perceived by sense are kept ready there for the thought of the one recalling them. Although it is apparent by which senses they are seized and stored away there, who can say how these images are formed? For even when I dwell in darkness and silence, I bring forth colors in my memory, if I wish, and I distinguish between white and black, between what others as I will. Nor do sound rush in and disturb the thing drawn in by the eyes as I reflect upon it, although sounds too are there and lie hidden and set apart, as it were. . . . Although my tongue is at rest and my throat silent, yet I sing as much as I wish. Those images of color, although they are nonetheless there, do not interpose or interrupt, when another stock of images, which flowed in through the ears, is drawn forth. So also other things, which were carried in and heaped up by other senses, I recall at pleasure. I distinguish the breath of lilies from violets, although smelling neither one. I prefer honey to muster, the smooth to sharp, although not tasting and touching them at the time, but simply by recalling them in memory.

These acts I perform within myself in the vast court of my memory. Within it are present to me sky, earth and sea, together with all things that I could perceive in them, aside from all the things I have forgotten. There too I encounter myself and recall myself, and what, and when I did it. There are those things which I remember either as experienced by me or as taken on trust from others. From that same abundant stock, also, I combine one and another of the likenesses of things, whether things actually known by experience or those believed in from those I have experienced, with things past, and from them I meditate upon future actions, events hopes and all these again as though they were actually present. "I will do this or that," I say to myself within that vast recess of my mind, filled with images so many and so great, and this deed or that then follows. "Oh, that this or that could be!" "May God forbid this or that!" I say such things within myself, and as I speak, the images of all the things I name are ready at hand, out of that same treasure house of memory. Nor would I utter any of them, if their images were absent.