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Friday, April 03, 2009

Question of The Weekend: What Poems Can You Recite By Heart?

So in honor of National Poetry Month, I thought I'd ask if any of you, like me, have little snatches of verse memorized, or perhaps longer poems that you had to memorize for school?

Poems I know:

My grandmother gave me a quarter to memorize "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" as a kid and so long after other bits that were lodged in my brain at various points have faded, that poem stays.
This hardly counts as an accomplishment, but I can recite Frost shorties "Nothing Gold Can Stay" and "Fire and Ice" and Wordsworth shortie "My Heart Leaps Up!"
Finally, I can also whip out all of Sonnet #18 thanks to a sung version of it that appeared on the Diana Princess of Wales memorial CD (yep. long story.)

Poems I sorta know:

Mostly though, I tend to get stuck around 2/3 of my favorite poems.
I know the first and last stanza of "Kubla Khan" just because of repeated readings, but would love to buckle down and commit the second stanza to memory. I can recite the first stanza of "The Second Coming."
I can recite 3/4 of Orsino's "if music be the food of love" and 4/5 of Sonnet 116, but I always get stuck around the sickle and compass and stuff ;)

Poems I used to know:

The first 18 lines of the Canterbury Tales' General Prologue, and the first Astrophil and Stella sonnet ("Loving in Truth") and Lady Macbeth's "unsex me here" monologue were all memorized in college for classes during a time when I was, err, engaging in behavior on a regular basis which wasn't great for my memory. Ha.

Poems I wish I knew:
Ode to a Nightingale
The Second Coming and a ton more Yeats.
Everything else!

So what about you? Any poems with which you can impress folks at a literary cocktail party ?


  1. I know Nothing Gold Can Stay by heart too, thanks to The Outsiders. *sigh* I'm horrible at memorization, so really I don't know any others. Except First Fig. LOL!

  2. I can do Nothing Gold Can Stay because of The Outsiders, too. How I loved that Ponyboy.

    Let's see, I can do a bunch of Emily Dickinson, but they are short.

    Also Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night.

    A few passages from the Bard.

    Can't think of any others off hand.

    My daughter's school is big on memorization. Not sure what that's doing for them exactly, but it certainly impresses the relatives!

  3. in my "Poetry Forms" course, our professor made us memorize a poem of our choice (as long as it was in form) and I chose Sonnet 116, mostly because I love it so and because I had the first four lines memorized thanks to Kate Winslet's Marianne.

  4. "In Flanders Fields"- I memorized that in fifth grade along with the rest of the class. Those lines are burned into my brain.
    "A Psalm of Life" by Longfellow. I thought that poem was pretty rad at one time. wtf
    "Cupid Drowned" by Leigh Hunt- seventh grade memorized this and I memorized it too (sixth and seventh were combined) as I heard them recite it as a class, one hundred times!
    "My Native Land" by Sir Walter Scott- Also overheard while seventh grade recited it

    The opening lines of Chaucer's Prologue- every time I recite it, I get real happy. And if I happen to recite it in public (in Middle English OF COURSE), it renders people speechless. I used to know some of the Nun's Tale but alas, my brain allowed it to sail away.

    I know portions of "If" by Kipling and I wish I didn't.

    I've been thinking for awhile of memorizing some Dickinson. Maybe this month of poetry will get me going! Something by Kenyon would be nice too.

  5. Hmm - my mother got me to memorize "If" too, weirdly giving me something in common with Rod Blagojevich. Used to know all the verses - now there are holes. Hated that last line.

    of course Hamlet's soliloquy

    snippets of Frost

    does the Gettysburg Address count?

  6. Heh. "Snippets of Frost" for me, too - and Adrienne Rich's Vertigo, my favourite poem. I used to know "The Charge of the Light Brigade", but I think it's slipped through the cracks. Snatches of lots of other poems, but nothing in its entirety. Oh, and Lines 5-10 of Cicero's third oration against Catiline, courtesy of an excellent high school Latin teacher. Do songs count?

  7. Most of my poetry memorizing occurred in the preteen years, which means that the only two things I really have are Jaberwocky and the first couple verses of The Highwayman. In Flanders Fields was a given (being Canadian and all). I'll have to think on this a bit further, I think there were others.

  8. Wow, great answers. I think my brother can do "In Flanders Field" too. I've never read "The Outsiders." Clearly I need to!

  9. I know "Stopping By Woods" as well. I had to memorize it seven years ago in school and it's never left me.

    And also "In a Station of the Metro." Such an accomplishment, memorizing that 2-line poem!

  10. @ K: I had an English Teacher who did such a great voice for "In the Station of the Metro." Petals on a wet... BLACK... BOUGH...."

    best two line poem ever?

  11. Most of mine are in Latin: Catullus 85 (Odi et amo...), Aeneid VI.126-129 (Facilis descensus Averno...)

    I used to be able to do Macbeth's "Tomorrow" soliloquy too. Can't think of any other English poems I know by heart, which probably means there are none. Do song lyrics count?

  12. I once recited The Highwayman in 6th grade.

    Now the only poem I can confidenly recite is:

    Go wash your feet
    The Board of Health's across the street.


  13. Sarah M.4:13 PM

    I don't have too much 'cept for:
    "Annabell Lee"

    parts of "The Raven" (I was deep into Poe as an adolescent and dressed up as the Raven for a 5th grade school wax museum...yikes)

    "If"--I know it's imperial and white-man's burden-y, but I sort of think its a good poem. And no, I am not prepared to defend that statement.

    And, most confidently of all, a delightful ditty from my youth called "The Goops," which is a poem-lesson in good manners.