September 1st, 2017

On memorizing poetry (redux)

Molly Worthen has written an article in the the NY Times recommending the memorization of poetry:

Since ancient times, humans have memorized and recited poetry. Before the invention of writing, the only way to possess a poem was to memorize it. Long after scrolls and folios supplemented our brains, court poets, priests and wandering bards recited poetry in order to entertain and connect with the divine. For individuals, a poem learned by heart could be a lifeline — to grapple with overwhelming emotion or preserve sanity amid the brutalities of prison and warfare.

Yet poetry memorization has become deeply unfashionable, an outmoded practice that many teachers and parents — not to mention students — consider too boring, mindless and just plain difficult for the modern classroom. Besides, who needs to memorize when our smartphones can instantly call up nearly any published poem in the universe?

In fact, the value of learning literature by heart — particularly poetry — has only grown.

This is not unlike my own post on the subject, one of the earliest things I wrote on this blog. But I am rather puzzled by Worthen’s notion (and seemingly she assumes most people agree with her) that poetry is hard to memorize. No it’s not; it’s prose that’s hard to memorize. Poetry is relatively easy, like song lyrics—if it rhymes or has meter, that is. And older poetry (that’s the type Worthen seems to be talking about for the most part) almost always has rhyme or meter or both. That should make it easy to memorize.

I always found it so, anyway. But maybe, as a poetry lover, I’m not typical.

What follows is the text of my earlier post.

I think it may be a lost pedagogical device, but when I was in grade school, we were forced by our teachers (mostly elderly women, as it happens) to memorize poetry. Lots of poetry. Most of it doggeral, but not all of it, not by any means.

There was an old-fashioned quality to their choices: patriotic and seasonal verse, concerning Presidents and holidays (“If Nancy Hanks came back as a ghost, seeking news of what she loved most”; “There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood”).

I was a good poetry memorizer. I’m not trying to brag here, since I don’t think this ability implies any particular merit on my part. But no sooner had I written the thing down, copied from the blackboard on which the teacher had slowly and laboriously written it in her beautiful handwriting, then it was firmly ensconced in my head.

And there much of it stays. To this day, actually. Fortunately, along with the Edgar Guest and the others (“It takes a heap o’ livin’, in a house t’ make it home”) we were assigned some very fine poetry, mostly in junior high. Shakespearean sonnets and Wordsworth and Milton, some Robert Frost and Shakespeare, the Gettysburg Address (not poetry, but it might as well have been).

Much of this I simply memorized by rote. I understood the basic meaning, but it had no real significance to me, no depth. I had no context for it.

But since it had been filed away, somewhere, I experienced a curious phenomenon later on. I found that in crises or emotional times, a line of poetry would suddenly come to me—a phrase I’d never paid much attention to before—and I’d have one of those “aha!” moments.

At one point I sustained a serious and chronic injury. My physical limitations were such that for long periods of time I could not work, nor even read or write in any sustained way. I took to visiting a park near where I lived and slowly walking around a track there. Nearby was a small wooded area, and it was wintertime and snow was on the ground. Looking at the trees, the following line suddenly came to my mind, unbidden, (“Whose woods these are I think I know…”) memorized so long ago, and hardly thought of since.

But the words were all there, waiting for me, and when I came to the lines, “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep” they hit me with the force of near-revelation. Frost seemed to be talking about wanting to give up, to surrender to something dark and restful (what? death?) in a time of great weariness such as I was experiencing. And then the next line came, too, offering hope and resolution, “But I have promises to keep…”

This sort of thing kept happening to me. Keeps happening to me, actually. In situation after situation, a line or passage of poetry will announce itself—something that I’d apparently held in my mind, in suspended animation as it were, without any true reflection or understanding—and suddenly, it would be freighted with deep and poignant meaning.

So I’m hereby declaring myself in favor of the practice of poetry memorization in schools. I know there are many many children—adults, too—who hate poetry. I don’t think that will change; I’m not imagining that poetry will gain a lot of converts from the mere act of children being required to memorize it. But for the rest, I think there’s great value to be had in carrying around a small library of poetry in one’s head, to draw upon in the hard times—or even the joyful times.

Right after 9/11, Yeats’ “The Second Coming” was the poem that kept swirling around in my brain. It doesn’t really offer any comfort; it’s a very bleak vision, after all. But for me, even the act of recalling the lines, somber and frightening as they are, had its own sort of solace, saying to me, “Others have had this fear, others have passed through terrible times of chaos,” and, paradoxically, lending words of great beauty to the description of that terrifying state:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…

28 Responses to “On memorizing poetry (redux)”

  1. Bilwick Says:

    Trying to get the Dumbest Generation interested in any literature–let alone poetry–is probably quite the challenge.

  2. arfldgrs Says:

    Songs dont count?

    i have thousands of poems memorized.. thousands of songs..
    including the scores and different parts as i can hear them and remember them… its one of my skills..

    of course this means i oppressed someone who didnt learn

    if we shadows have offended
    think but this and all is mended
    that you hath slumbered here
    whilst these visions did appear
    and as this weak and idled theme
    no more yeilding than a dream

    i dont give a puck anyway

  3. miklos000rosza Says:

    My first instance of responding to literature came when I was home sick in 3rd grade and became enamored with the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe.

  4. arfldgrs Says:

    at least you guys didnt have to start with ode to a grecian urn, the charge of the light brigade, and the now forbidden to the virgins…. (of which the feminists are learning the hardest lesson. after all, their group is now a minority and if they popped puppies out by the dozen they still will be put in place by the coming racialists who will outfote them and now they figured out de whites women ahve white males… they is done for.. )

    but here is the poem anyway

    Robert Herrick
    To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

    Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
    Old Time is still a-flying;
    And this same flower that smiles today
    Tomorrow will be dying.

    The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
    The higher he’s a-getting,
    The sooner will his race be run,
    And nearer he’s to setting.

    That age is best which is the first,
    When youth and blood are warmer;
    But being spent, the worse, and worst
    Times still succeed the former.

    Then be not coy, but use your time,
    And while ye may, go marry;
    For having lost but once your prime,
    You may forever tarry.

    Single, Childless and ‘Downright Terrified’ – The New Old Age Blog
    No Spouse, No Kids, No Caregiver: How to Prepare to Age Alone
    Attitudes to women ageing without children can be surprisingly cruel
    Single women are a force in society and a ghost in our culture

    But what makes you think the poetry of dead white guys and dead white ladies will get press?

    Men Are Worthless Men Are Worthless There’s Really Nothing Else

    Men are worthless
    There’s really nothing else to say
    Why are they meaningless
    Whya re they as useful as an old stak of hay?
    Because their grimy slimy pigs to the core
    They lack any manners and wolf whistle at ladies
    And frankly talk to them is purely a bore
    They’re all best of friends with hades
    All they thik about is how us girls look
    Noting about how we think
    Bet none of them have ever written a book
    Because they hoot and holler over their alcoholic drink
    Screw men
    Their just worthless

    i guess if we werent hat way this would not be possible:

    Teen’s “White Boy Privilege” slam poetry goes viral – CNN –

    this is from a 14 year old boy
    let me know what a 14 year old has done

    Dear women, I’m sorry.

    Dear black people, I’m sorry.

    Dear Asian-Americans, dear Native Americans, dear immigrants who come here seeking a better life, I’m sorry.

    Dear everyone who isn’t a middle or upper-class white boy, I’m sorry.

    I have started life in the top of the ladder while you were born on the first rung.

    I say now that I would change places with you in an instant, but if given the opportunity, would I?

    Probably not.

    Because to be honest, being privileged is awesome. I’m not saying that you and me on different rungs of the ladder is how I want it to stay.

    I’m not saying that any part of me has for a moment even liked it that way.

    I’m just saying that I f—— love being privileged and I’m not ready to give that away. I love it because I can say ‘f——‘ and not one of you is attributing that to the fact that everyone with my skin color has a dirty mouth.

    I love it because I don’t have to spend an hour every morning putting on makeup to meet other people’s standards.

    I love it because I can worry about what kind of food is on my plate instead of whether or not there will be food on my plate.

    I love it because when I see a police officer I see someone who’s on my side.

    To be honest I’m scared of what it would be like if i wasn’t on the top rung if the tables were turned and I didn’t have my white boy privilege safety blankie to protect me.

    If I lived a life lit by what I lack, not what I have, if I lived a life in which when I failed, the world would say, ‘Told you so.’

    If I lived the life that you live.

    When I was born I had a success story already written for me.
    You — you were given a pen and no paper.

    I’ve always felt that that’s unfair but I’ve never dared to speak up because I’ve been too scared.

    Well now I realize that there’s enough blankie to be shared.

    Everyone should have the privileges I have.

    In fact they should be rights instead.

    Everyone’s story should be written, so all they have to do is get it read.

    Enough said.

    No, not enough said.

    It is embarrassing that we still live in a world in which we judge another person’s character by of the size of their paycheck, the color of their skin, or the type of chromosomes they have.

    It is embarrassing that we tell our kids that it is not their personality, but instead those same chromosomes that get to dictate what color clothes they wear and how short they must cut their hair.
    But most of all, it is embarrassing that we deny this. That we claim to live in an equal country and an equal world.

    We say that women can vote. Well guess what: They can run a country, own a company, and throw a nasty curve ball as well. We just don’t give them the chance to.

    I know it wasn’t us 8th-grade white boys who created this system, but we profit from it every day.

    We don’t notice these privileges though, because they don’t come in the form of things we gain, but rather the lack of injustices that we endure.

    Because of my gender, I can watch any sport on TV, and feel like that could be me one day.

    Because of my race I can eat at a fancy restaurant without the wait staff expecting me to steal the silverware.

    Thanks to my parents’ salary I go to a school that brings my dreams closer instead of pushing them away.

    Dear white boys: I’m not sorry.

    I don’t care if you think the feminists are taking over the world, that the Black Lives Matter movement has gotten a little too strong, because that’s bulls—.

    I get that change can be scary, but equality shouldn’t be.

    Hey white boys: It’s time to act like a woman. To be strong and make a difference. It’s time to let go of that fear.

    It’s time to take that ladder and turn it into a bridge.

    he sure unpacked his knapsack

    then there is the poetry of H Rap Brown
    think rap came from Be Bop? no way Jose..
    its Homage to H RAP brown..

    and remember, poetry that gets memorized will be from his book, NOT from the cannon of dead whitre evil racist oppressor nazis

    Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (born Hubert Gerold Brown; October 4, 1943), also known as H. Rap Brown, was the fifth chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, and during a short-lived (six months) alliance between SNCC and the Black Panther Party, he served as their minister of justice. He is perhaps most famous for his proclamations during that period that “violence is as American as cherry pie” and that “If America don’t come around, we’re gonna burn it down.” He is also known for his autobiography Die Nigger Die!. He is currently serving a life sentence for murder following the 2000 shooting of two Fulton County Sheriff’s deputies. One deputy, Ricky Kinchen, died in the shooting.

    Die Nigger Die! is a 1969 political autobiography by the American political activist H. Rap Brown (now known as Jamil Abdullah al-Amin). The book was first released in the United States in 1969 (by Dial Press) and then in the United Kingdom in 1970 (by Allison & Busby). Brown describes his experiences as a young black civil rights activist and how they shaped his opinions of white America. He expresses his opinions on what he believes black Americans need to do to break free from white oppression. As a Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and from 1968 a member of the Black Panther Party, he was heavily involved with organizations that espoused a Black Power ideology.

    you can buy a copy here

    A Retrospective on
    H. Rap Brown’s Die Nigger Die!
    By Amin Sharif

    The next time I saw Rap was on TV. Then, along with Huey P. Newton, Rap was considered one of the most dangerous black men in America. That was when America’s cities were burning and Martin Luther King was dead.

    That’s who Rap was. And, for some, that’s who Rap will always be. To see H. Rap Brown as an Imam of Islam, which he has now become, is for some like seeing a fundamental law of nature altered. It is as if being told that the speed of light is no longer 186,282 miles per second or that the law of gravity no longer applies to the earth. Knowledge of Rap’s change in character is as shattering as was the fact, for the Vatican of the Dark Ages, that the sun, not the earth, is the center of our solar system.

    But the H. Rap Brown we knew in the 1960s is gone. Time changes everything. And I like many others, am going to miss the old H. Rap Brown. I know, nevertheless, that whatever changes Rap has made have been for the better.


  5. arfldgrs Says:

    please dont shorten, i will shut up

  6. Gringo Says:

    I once substituted in a 5th grade class at a “problem school” whose teacher had good results with having her students memorize poetry. Yes, they did recite for me. My take was that the students seemed a bit calmer than I had expected.

    Reciting poetry in front of the class had two additional positive effects. It gave a student a chance to perform in front of the whole class, with everyone listening. That is an ego booster. In addition it showed students that if they wanted others to listen to them, they had to return the favor and also listen to others.

    When I was in 5th or 6th grade, we had to memorize and recite Casey at the Bat. I hammed up my in-class recitation. I found out later, to my chagrin, there were unexpected consequences to my having hammed it up. I was chosen to recite the poem in a school assembly. While I was comfortable reciting in front of my class, I was uncomfortable standing alone before an audience of several hundred. No, I didn’t later try out for Drama Club. 🙂

  7. Gringo Says:

    For those who are interested in some poems others consider worth memorizing, consider the following: John Hollander, Ed: Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize. This is filed under Lesson Plan. There are links to the poems. There is no e-book/Kindle, though it would be easy to construct one for those who have Calibre.

  8. miklos000rosza Says:

    I still read new poetry. Ocean Vuong is a young poet whose work I like.

    Oh, by the way, if you haven’t experienced it, then find a CD or whatever of Sylvia Plath reading her poetry aloud. It offers an entirely different, fascinating view of her — much more interesting than any of the worshipful “O woe is me” films. She sure doesn’t sound blonde.

  9. John F. MacMichael Says:

    To Gringo, above at 4:41 PM, I was interested in the book you mentioned, “Committed to Memory”, and checked to see if my local library had a copy. I found they have two copies. And 18 holds outstanding for them. I wonder if this is the result of some class project in a local school or, perhaps, a sign of a revival of the ancient love of memorizing good poetry.

  10. parker Says:

    A BLT is another excuse
    To eat mayonnaise
    Don’t be obtuse
    You know you want a BLT

  11. steve walsh Says:

    As you say, songs are the easiest to memorize for me, I don’t know if it is the music that accompanies it or the repetition, or both. But I always loved this, first heard excerpted in a song (!) by the Clancy brothers:

    I have met them at close of day
    Coming with vivid faces
    From counter or desk among grey
    Eighteenth-century houses.
    I have passed with a nod of the head
    Or polite meaningless words,
    Or have lingered awhile and said
    Polite meaningless words,
    And thought before I had done
    Of a mocking tale or a gibe
    To please a companion
    Around the fire at the club,
    Being certain that they and I
    But lived where motley is worn:
    All changed, changed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.

    “Easter, 1916”, W.B. Yeats

  12. miklos000rosza Says:

    Homewrecker by Ocean Vuong

    And this is how we danced: with our mothers’
    white dresses spilling from our feet, late August

    turning our hands dark red. And this is how we loved:
    a fifth of vodka and an afternoon in the attic, your fingers

    sweeping though my hair—my hair a wildfire.
    We covered our ears and your father’s tantrum turned

    into heartbeats. When our lips touched the day closed
    into a coffin. In the museum of the heart

    there are two headless people building a burning house.
    There was always the shotgun above the fireplace.

    Always another hour to kill—only to beg some god
    to give it back. If not the attic, the car. If not the car,

    the dream. If not the boy, his clothes. If not alive,
    put down the phone. Because the year is a distance

    we’ve traveled in circles. Which is to say: this is how
    we danced: alone in sleeping bodies. Which is to say:

    This is how we loved: a knife on the tongue turning
    into a tongue.

  13. Mr. Frank Says:

    Learning poetry is a useful exercise, but if you teach it, you will have to test for it, and every one won’t do well. When the poor kids don’t do as well as the middle class kids, you have a problem.

    There is discussion of not teaching algebra because some kids can’t do it. That argument also applies to college.

  14. AesopFan Says:

    I lived in the memorizing-at-school days, but although I can give the first stanza of quite a few poems, the remainder of each is now lost.

    Randall Thompson’s settings of seven poems in “Frostiana” have kept those in my mind because of tying the words to the tunes.

    Frostiana (1959)
    Music by Randall Thompson, Poetry by Robert Frost
    1) The Road Not Taken (0:00); 2) The Pasture (5:08); 3) Come In (7:26); 4) The Telephone (12:07); 5) A Girl’s Garden (14:28); 6) Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (17:40); 7) Choose Something Like a Star (22:01)

    Harvard University Choir
    Edward Elwyn Jones, conductor
    Christian Lane, piano

    live concert recording

  15. Boz Says:

    Ted Hughes’s “By Heart” has been an inspiration to me. I’ve committed several poems to memory using the visualization technique which he describes, along with chunks of Hamlet, Richard II, and The Tempest. But Gerard Manley Hopkins hits the ball out of the park for me,
    “With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change.
    Praise him.”
    I write on a chilly afternoon in Margaret River in South-Western Australia, sitting in front of a roaring log fire, while outside the local parrots fossick around underneath a prunus in early blossom.

  16. Sgt. Mom Says:

    I’m in favor of this also. I had a wonderful teacher in 6th grade, Mr. Terranova of blessed memory, who insisted on poetry memorizing. We had to recite in chorus every morning the stanzas that we had committed to memory the night before. Not limited to poetry though — Materiel included the preamble to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The very longest poem was, if I recall, The Cremation of Sam Mcgee.
    This exercise has left me with bits and tags of poetry rattling around in my head for decades.

  17. Martha Preston Says:

    Another area where poetry memorization can be useful is in foreign language learning. This post brought back memories of my first year German class in college more than 50 years ago. We memorized 4 or 5 very beautiful German poems. I don’t remember much German now, but I still can recall most of the words of these poems. I also remembered the paperback book they were in – The Penguin Book of German Verse—which is still on my bookshelf. Somehow I never could let this book go to a used bookstore. I just now got out the book, found the poems we had to memorized, reread them aloud several times and began to reflect. Then I wrote this comment. Thanks, Neo, for all of your writings over the years and for bringing back this specific memory to me.

  18. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Memorization is used by apprentices who need a Form to mold themselves into.

    Masters no longer need memorization.

  19. Sean Says:

    Anyone got any ideas on what the best way to memorize poetry is? Probably a little different for everyone. I used to try memorizing poetry while taking walks in the evening but could usually only get a stanza at a time. Still, it adds up. Does writing them down help?

    Here’s my favorite:

    The Prophet

    With fainting soul athirst for grace,
    I wandered in a desert place.
    And at the crossing of the ways,
    I saw a six-fold seraph blaze.
    He touched mine eyes with fingers light
    As sleep that cometh in the night.
    And like a frightened eagles’ eyes,
    They opened wide with prophecies.
    He touched mine ears and they were drowned
    With tumult and a roaring sound.
    I heard convulsion in the sky
    And flight of angel hosts on high,
    And beasts that move beneath the sea
    And the sap creeping in the tree.
    Then bending to my mouth he wrung
    From out of it my sinful tongue,
    With all its lies and idle rust.
    And ‘twixt my lips-a-perishing,
    A subtle serpent’s forkèd sting
    With right hand wet with blood he thrust.
    And with his sword my breast he cleft,
    My quaking heart thereout he reft,
    And in the yawning of my breast,
    A coal of living fire he pressed.
    Then in the desert I lay dead
    And God called unto me and said,
    “Arise, and let my voice be heard,
    Charged with My will, go forth and span
    The land and sea, and let my word
    Lay waste with fire the heart of man.”


  20. Sean Says:

    Kipling’s verse is pretty easy to memorize and it’s safe to say that a lot of his politics would fit in well with this blog (cf. The City of Brass). Here’s one that any Trump Wall supporter will happily understand (it’s certainly popular on the alt-right).

    The Stranger

    The stranger within my gates,
    He may be true or kind,
    But he does not talk my talk,
    I cannot feel his mind.
    I see the face and the eyes and the mouth
    But not the soul behind.

    The men of my own stock,
    They may do ill or well,
    But they tell the lies I am wonted to,
    I know the lies they tell,
    And we do not need interpreters
    When we go to buy and sell.

    The stranger within my gates,
    He may be evil or good,
    But I cannot tell what powers control,
    What reasons sway his mood,
    Nor when the gods of his far-off land
    Shall repossess his blood.

    The men of my own stock,
    Bitter bad they may be,
    But at least they hear the things I hear
    And see the things I see.
    And whatever I think of them and their likes,
    They think of the likes of me.

    This was my father’s belief
    And this is also mine:
    Let the corn be all one sheaf
    And the grape be all one vine,
    Ere our children’s teeth are set on edge
    By bitter bread and wine.

    Being a white man who grew up in the Raj, I think it’s safe to say Kipling had a much better understanding of tribalism than any of his liberal critics ever will.

  21. AesopFan Says:

    Sean Says:
    September 2nd, 2017 at 8:31 pm
    Anyone got any ideas on what the best way to memorize poetry is? Probably a little different for everyone. I used to try memorizing poetry while taking walks in the evening but could usually only get a stanza at a time. Still, it adds up. Does writing them down help?

    * * *
    Here’s a resource for kids, but works for adults too, I should think.

    This was a good post, and had another method for memorization that you could adapt. 😉

    “In what would have been my prime recitation years had I been born in an earlier era—junior high and high school—little memorization was required of me. But in early boyhood I did a fair amount of it. My mother, who had literary ambitions, paid me a penny a line to memorize poems. The first one I mastered was Tennyson’s “The Eagle” (“He clasps the crag with crooked hands”), which brought in a haul of six cents. Opportunistically, I moved on to the longer “Casey at the Bat” (“It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville nine that day”) and Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib” (whose title I mispronounced for decades), which netted me fifty-two cents and twenty-four cents respectively. Some Longfellow, some Frost. I straggled through Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and enough of his “The Ancient Mariner” to purchase a couple of candy bars.”
    * * *

    This last one was very inspiring, especially as one of my sons has the same problem: verbal memorization, no problem (in fact, he and both of us parents recently performed together in a church production of Shrek! The Musical).
    But, he could not learn more than 8 spelling words at a time (at 10, he lost all of them) or any math facts, although he could memorize music and band marching patterns with no problem.
    We found out later that he saw words and numbers like frames in a movie, and eventually ran out of film, but the scripts and tunes and patterns (like poetry) kept rolling.

    “October 07, 1994|By Sara Gay Dammann. Special to the Tribune.

    TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Samantha Abeel is an enthusiastic 16-year-old who has no problem preparing for national book tours, reading her poetry at autograph sessions, appearing on talk radio or even addressing educational organizations.

    What energizes her is the opportunity to explain to any audience what it’s like to be simultaneously learning disabled and gifted. She knows the subject well. She describes most of her educational experience as “a nightmare” because she can’t deal with concepts of numbers or time. On the other hand, the discovery that she has unusual talent as a writer launched Samantha as a published poet, with a growing national reputation.

    “Reach for the Moon,” the collection of poems she wrote at age 13, side by side with the vivid watercolors of northern Michigan artist Charlie Murphy, is now in its third commercial printing.”
    * *
    The combo of learning-disabled and gifted is very common when the disability is cognition-dependent (if that’s the right term). I suspect many poets and literary writers have this same dichotomy, because the brain processes math and language differently.

    However, many computer programmers I know were also active in theater and music, so you never know.

  22. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Asperger and autism are part of the idiot savant grouping. I call it min and maxing, where you take points from one attribute and maximize another category.

    They can become a jack of all trades, but it requires them to first master one field. That allows them to get the tools to reprogram their mind using that one mastered field.

  23. Sean Says:

    Hey Aesop,

    Thanks, brother, especially for the New Yorker link. I decided a year or two ago that memorizing poetry would be a good way to buoy my spotty memory but gave up after the first half dozen poems or so. That article makes a good case for why I should get back to it.

  24. AesopFan Says:

    Sean Says:
    September 4th, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    * *
    Only try to memorize poems you really like.
    I suspect a lot of the “problems” experienced by kids in school was the choice given them by the teachers.

    I can still do “Jabberwocky” (with only a few fumbles here and there).

  25. Sean Says:


    One interesting side effect of memorizing poetry is it gives you a much better idea of what poems you don’t like than you would have if you just read them and went on to the next one. I memorized Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ thinking it might be nifty on account of its imagery, only to find myself repeating a meter and rhyme scheme that seemed to get uglier the more I said it.

  26. AesopFan Says:

    Sean: sometimes I wonder how some of these poets could stick with their chosen scheme long enough to finish.

    Try some of Robert Graves’ work; it’s very “poetic” without being in a strict meter.
    Another fun genre is the Welsh tradition, which has several traditional meters. SFAIK, they are the only nation which has an annual national / international contest for poets.
    Most of the Welsh folk-songs are outstanding poetry in their own right, much more so than the lyrics of most pop songs.

  27. Sean Says:

    I like the cut of your jib, Aesop.

    Here’s to hoping neo starts more threads on poetry and literature, or other arts. They’re a nice change of pace from politics.

  28. AesopFan Says:

    “They’re a nice change of pace from politics.”

    Amen to that.
    So long as we don’t start any cultural appropriation hi-jinks, anyway (I’m part Welsh and Irish and Brit, so I’m covered so far — I’ll drag out my DNA list and see what other countries are “safe”).

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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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Ace (bold)
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Anchoress (first things first)
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