Memorizing Poetry

Sally Thomas turned my mind to memorization again. It’s a big part of our everyday learning together.

Billy Collins says that one of the high points of his teaching career was when a stranger approached him on the subway. The man recognized him; Collins had been his teacher years before. One of the assignments had been to memorize a poem. And the man recited the poem right there on the train.

After all the intervening years, the poem wasn’t lost. It was “carried in his head, and maybe in his heart.”

That’s really what we’re after! Not word perfect memorization but hiding good words in our hearts. This year we’ve been learning real poems. Not poems written for children: Auden, Milton, Donne, Frost, Yeats. There’s no reason to spend time with less.

The point is not to make sure we drill some list of classic poems into our kids. It’s to listen carefully each day to the rhythm and words, to quiet our hearts and enter the liminal world of the poem, to let it do it’s work on us.

The point is the poetry.


  1. Mrs. George Reece

    TO this generation I would say:
    Memorize some bit of verse of truth or beauty.
    It may serve a turn in your life.
    My husband had nothing to do
    With the fall of the bank—he was only cashier. 5
    The wreck was due to the president, Thomas Rhodes,
    And his vain, unscrupulous son.
    Yet my husband was sent to prison,
    And I was left with the children,
    To feed and clothe and school them. 10
    And I did it, and sent them forth
    Into the world all clean and strong,
    And all through the wisdom of Pope, the poet:
    “Act well your part, there all the honor lies.”

    From “The Spoon River Anthology
    by Edgar Lee Masters

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