Monday, September 7, 2009

Poems to Remember

Do you memorize poetry? Did you have to in school? Do you still read poetry? Is there any poetry that you can recite by heart? I read this great post the other day at I Will and it inspired me to think about my own love of poetry.

I used to read and memorize a lot of poetry, just for the sheer fun of it. I was particularly fond of 20th century American poets like Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Frost. In my 20s, I read contemporary voices like Lyn Lifshin, Frank Bidart, and Ronald Wallace. And I love the British classics like Shelley and Wordsworth and Tennyson. Americans Dickinson and Poe. Travel introduced me to French masters Jacques Prevert and Paul Eluard and Irish poets Eavan Boland and Brendan Kennelly. These days I like to read Kim Addonizio and Ellen Steinbaum. And more.

So how much can I remember? Let's see. I'm probably going to make some mistakes but I'll do the best I can without cheating!

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
and be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear,
though as for that the passing there
had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no step had trodden black.
I saved the first for another day
yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted I should ever come back.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and I, I took the one less traveled by
and that has made all the difference.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature's first green is gold,
its hardest hue to hold.
Its early leaf's a flower
But only so an hour.

(I forget the rest!)

Indian Serenade, P. B. Shelley
I arise from dreams of thee
in the first sweet sleep of night
when the moon is hanging low
and the stars are shining bright.
I arise from dreams of thee
and a spirit in my feet
hath lead me- who knows how- to thy chamber window, sweet!

(that's all I remember!)

Daffodils, by W. Wordsworth
I wandered, lonely as a cloud,
that floats on high o'er vales and hills,
when all at once I saw a crowd- a host of golden daffodils
beside the lake, beneath the trees,
fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

(there's more- but that's all I remember.)

A little from Prévert-

Et la verre était vide
et la bouteille brisée
et le lit était grand ouvert
et la porte fermée

et toutes les étoiles de verre
du bonheur et de la beauté
resplendissaient dans la poussière
de la chambre mal balayée.

Et j'étais ivre mort,
et j'étais feu de joie,
et toi ivre vivante,
toute nue dans mes bras.

(that's all I got- please pardon any grammatical or spelling errors in the French- I am doing this from memory!)

When I was in my teens I memorized poetry as a hobby. Probably one of my all-time favorite individual poems was Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art," from her wonderful book Geography III. It's written in a French formal style called a villanelle, a 19-line-long poem with an interesting and echoing rhyming structure. It starts
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I wish I could still remember the rest!

What about you? What are your favorites? I used to really love reading (and writing) poetry and it's something I really miss. I need to make some kind of resolution about reading poetry more regularly and trying out new voices. Any suggestions?


Winslow said...

I loved this post. I used to do exactly the same thing - always memorizing poems as I walked to an from school, and walking in the woods. Dylan Thomas's The Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait was the only one that turned out to be too long.
When I teach teens I always try to get them to memorize a poem - we say it in class together.

A Buckeye Girl Reads said...

I used to love memorizing poetry. Haven't done it in ages though. My favorite was one of the first I memorized-Raven

Melissa said...

Lovely post! (And impressive, that you still have those poems memorized.) I need to read more poetry and have been trying to do so this year. Most of my poetry reading has been Billy Collins, but I've also read Grace Paley's poems and Erica Jong's. (Still need to review that one ....)

the heart is a lonely reader said...

I am impressed by your memory. I can hardly remember the lyrics to my favorite songs, let alone lines to my favorite poems. For a while, I kept select verses memorized - I'm not sure why, probably to use obscurely at parties in hopes to impress a boy - but I don't find too many uses for it since graduating college.

I still can recite the last paragraph of The Great Gatsby, however. That stays with me always.

The first poem I had to memorize was "Winkin', Blinkin', and Nod."

Anonymous said...

I love poetry...especially the female poets.

Christina Rossetti is favorite, along with Emily Dickinson, the Bronte sisters, and others. Goblin Market, by Christina Rossetti is one of my all time favorite poems.

Memory said...

I was only ever required to memorize one or two poems in school, but I've learned a few others since then. Most of the ones I know by heart have been set to music by Loreena McKennitt. She's done some wonderful arrangements, including "The Lady of Shalott," "The Highwayman," many of Shakespeare's longer speeches and a few pieces from Yeats.

I also tend to get random lines of poetry stuck in my head. Two that have always haunted me are, "Hide that red went thing I must somehow forget" and "You love us when we're heroes home on leave, or wounded in a mentionable place." Both come from poems written in response to the first World War.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I can also do "The Road Not Taken" and "Nothing Gold Can Stay" AND "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening"! I can also do "Concord Hymn" by Ralph Waldo Emerson and "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae. That's about it! It is amazing that one's brain can remember them after all that time!

caite said...

I know one poem..Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Frost.
I should memorize more...

Serena said...

I really like poetry and love reviewing volumes of work on the blog when I can.

I used to know entire poems, but I think I only remember bits and pieces, like the Frost poem you mention and emily dickinson's I could not stop for death...

I really love poetry and wish more people would see the fun in memorizing and reciting them aloud.

I have a feature every weekend, usually Saturday, in which readers are welcome to talk about the poem I post, classic or contemporary, and offer opinions or ideas about the poem.

This week happened to be Wordsworth, if you are interested in checking it out, here's the link:

Zibilee said...

I used to write a lot of poetry in my younger years, but strangely, I didn't read a lot of poetry. I think now that I am a bit older that I enjoy reading it more often. I have a great book of poems that my husband bought me on our first date, and I often look through it fondly.

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing post. I'd go with the Frost and the Wordsworth as well. Frost is one of my all-time favorite poets.

The other ones I remember include, The Highwayman, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Inch Cape Rock, and my all-time favorite poem, Casablanca.

It starts:

The boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but he had fled,
The flame that lit the battle's wreck,
Shone 'round him o'er the dead.
Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm,
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud though childlike form.
The flames rolled on; he would not go,
Without his father's word,
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

Library Cat said...

Loved this post. I have two very vivid poetry moments. The first "poem" I had to memorize was in Kindergarten -

A dillar, a dollar,
A ten o’clock scholar;
What makes you come so soon?
You used to come at ten o’clock,
But now you come at noon!

I was terrified that I had to recite this in front of the class, but somehow managed!

When I was in the sixth grade, we had to memorize Walt Whitman's O Captain, My Captain and recite it as a group, each speaking a few lines. As a child of the Kennedy assassination, every time it was time for me to speak, I started crying! Needless to say, my group was most unhappy with me. I am still not sure if I can recite it without tears!

O Captain my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.


Sue Jackson said...

I'm not much of a poetry fan, but in high school we had to memorize Jabberwocky from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's all nonsense words, but to this day, I can recite the whole thing! A very handy talent...

'Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe..."


Jem said...

My favorite poem is 'This Is a Photograph of Me' by Margaret Atwood. I absolutely love it.

For all the Robert Frost fans, you may be interested in this article on my blog about when I went to visit the first farm Frost owned and lived on in New Hampshire:

KY Warrior Librarian said...

I was lucky enough to have my sixth grade teacher read to me "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes with such tone and inflection that it had me hanging on the edge of my seat, and it inspired my life-long love of poetry. So much so, that I memorized that same poem as an assignment for class, and can still repeat most of it verbatim 45 years later!