poem index

Memorize a Poem

Year

2014

"We speak of memorizing as getting something 'by heart,' which really means 'by head.' But getting a poem or prose passage truly 'by heart' implies getting it by mind and memory and understanding and delight." —John Hollander

Select a poem from the book you're reading, or an old favorite, and begin to memorize it. While memorization may seem like a relic from your school days, the rewards of recalling a private anthology of well-loved poems are both immediate and long-lasting.

If you are new to memorization, pick a short poem with a strong rhythmic underpinning. Rhythm has long been used as a tool to aid the memory, particularly by oral storytellers before the advent of the written word. By choosing and memorizing a poem that you love, you connect yourself to this long tradition of passing along stories and customs through the power of poetic language. Make sure that you understand the sense of the poem—this will give meaning to the rote act of learning each line and transform a string of sounds into a message that you can easily absorb and transmit.

Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize (1996) is a great guide to choosing poems which lend themselves easily to memorization. Published in conjunction with The Academy of American Poets and edited by John Hollander, this anthology presents a group of classic, celebrated poems which emphasizes the pleasure of memorization and recitation.

You can also browse a list of poems to memorize, perform, or recite—part of a feature on Great Poems to Teach.