A poem can be memorized unlike any other art form.
You can memorize a song… but can you sing?
You can memorize a painting… but can you recall every tiny detail?
You can memorize a dance… but can it be expressed the same without a stage?
Meanwhile, a poem can be expressed with nothing else but your everyday voice. You don’t need a band, a stage, or even the vocal cords of an angel to return it to a listener on-demand, with maximum resolution.
Short poems go easily into the mind, creating space to savor every word. Long poems require effort, but the stretch can be worth it. Especially for the joy on people’s faces when you share the results.
There’s no right or wrong poem to memorize, just the one(s) that call to you. The process of memorization, internalization, and digestion are what matter.
Because what starts as a part of your mind in memorization will soon become part of your heart, if you spend enough time with it. You may soon find the poem coming up in moments of silence and solitude, from the deep places of memory in the body.
And if you give it long enough, it can even become part of your soul as a lifelong companion, a blessing at gatherings, and part of people’s fondest memories of you.
How To Memorize A Poem
Start by reading the poem out loud a few times, in its entirety. Don’t try to commit it to memory right away. Let the structure and meaning of the poem unfold itself over those readings, and the memorizing will go easier.
When reading, there’s no need to stop at the end of line breaks. You read a poem like you read any other sentence, pausing at commas and stopping briefly at periods. That’s it.
Once you have a better feel for what the poet is saying, try memorizing two lines at a time. This is easier with rhyming poems, of course. But it works with other poems, too.
Build up the poem two lines at a time, until you can recite it all by memory. Then do it all from memory a couple times.
Don’t forget to come back to it the next day, and the next, so you don’t lose what you’ve gained.
As you get stronger in your memorization, you’ll feel more confident using the full strength of your voice to express the poem.
How loud can the poem be recited? Does it want to be shouted? Whispered? Do some words want to be emphasized more than others?
Over time, this particular recital will become your own. No one else in the world will ever recite that poem the way you do.
Poems To Memorize
Below are five poems you can memorize in less than an hour to start your way on this journey.
If you’d like to hear me read (and interpret) poems, please check out my Poetry for Men series, part of the Renaissance of Men Podcast.
You can choose your favorite podcast platform here.
And you can email me at email@example.com any time with comments, or even recordings of your memorizations.
Good luck, please enjoy.
“The Silken Tent”, by Robert Frost
She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.
“The Learn’d Astronomer”, by Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
“Love After Love”, by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
“Ozymandias”, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’
HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH BONUS POEM!
“Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day”, by William Shakespeare
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.