Poems to Memorize

One thing that is missing in the modern education system is the recitation. Besides the multiplication tables and our “facts,” not much is memorized as a lesson. We may “learn” a song, but we don’t recite it. One of the best ways to enrich our interior thoughts is by memorization.

“Committed to Memory” is a lesson presented by John Hollander. It is also a poetry anthology edited by the author.

In the introduction, Hollander presents a story which illuminates the problems teachers encounter with students thinking they don’t need to learn something because they can just “look it up.”

In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates tells a story about the invention of writing, in which the Egyptian god Thoth shows his written characters to another god, Ammon, who rebukes him: “This discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember themselves.”

Hollander explains the history of memorization in American schools and how fifty years ago people chose the poems to memorize based on which ones had moved them. (My father’s favorites, for instance, are “Thanatopsis” and “Little Boy Blue.”) Now, however, memorization has almost disappeared from the school system.

Hollander also explains how the poems were chosen, by length and rhythm, among other things. He discusses how to perform a poem recitation. And then he gives a list of 100+ poems for memorization.

Some of the poems from that list, that I personally enjoy, are:
“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
“When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” by John Milton
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”, Sonnet #18 by William Shakespeare
“Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
“The Spacious Firmament on high” by Joseph Addison
“The Tyger” by William Blake
“A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes
From “In Memoriam” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Song of Myself, XI by Walt Whitman
“Ecclesiastes 3:1-8” by Anonymous
“If” by Rudyard Kipling
“Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas
“The World” by George Herbert
Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll
“Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“anyone lived in a pretty how town” by E. E. Cummings
“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
“The Owl and the Pussy-cat” by Edward Lear
“Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson
“All the world’s a stage” by William Shakespeare
“Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
“Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson
“Mending Wall” by Robert Frost
“The Darkling Thrush” by Thomas Hardy
“The Chambered Nautilus” by Oliver Wendall Holmes
“Spring and Fall” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
“To Autumn” by John Keats
“Ulysses” by Lord Alfred Tennyson
“The Kraken” by Lord Alfred Tennyson
“A noiseless patient spider” by Walt Whitman

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