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Friday, February 01, 2013

Poetry Friday--Memorization

The other day New York Yorker magazine had an article titled, "Why We Should Memorize Poetry." The writer, Brad Leithauser, says,
The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen.
"You take the poem inside you..." interesting observation.

So what's a good poem to memorize? I'd say shorter is better, but the book, Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize, edited by John Hollander [821.008 COM], disagrees, since the majority listed are longer than the 14-line sonnet, of which there are 11, and only one of the 100 is a quatrain!

Hollander states, "Rhyming accentual-syllabic verse is always a great aid to memorizing." On this I have to agree. The only poem I memorized in my youth was "If" by Rudyard Kipling, and I never would have made it if it hadn't rhymed! Sadly, all I can remember of it today is its opening.

Hollander also chose "If" as good to memorize and it is #56 on his list of 100 best.

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
   But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
   Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
   And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master;
   If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
   And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
   Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
   And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
   And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
   To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
   Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
   Or walk with Kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
   If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
   With sixty seconds' worth of distance run--
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
   And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

If you're looking for more poetry today, head over to Teaching Authors for the Poetry Friday Round-Up.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.


  1. I agree with Hollander about what he said about rhyming accentual-syllabic verse. Nice poem of choice, too. I can see myself memorizing it! The words roll smoothly off my tongue. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I'm going to look up "Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize" -- thanks! Reminds me of why I like Poetry Out Loud.