Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Poetry Memorization Isn't Just for Kids

When I was a wee homeschooled child, I regularly memorized poetry. Dedicating time to reading and learning beautiful verses was part of our curriculum. In fact, all these years later, I still remember a few partial verses from a poem about Pocahontas that I once learned. Aside from a short stint of poetry memorization as part of a high school course, after my childhood days, I left this practice behind me. I didn't consciously think about the fact that I was no longer memorizing poetry, it just wasn't part of my required curriculum, so I no longer did it. 

A while back, I noticed another blogger mentioned including poetry memorization in her homeschool routine (I believe it was Anne-Marie). I remember thinking, "Oh, that's so awesome! I am excited to homeschool someday and do that too!" 

Time rolled on.  

Earlier this Fall, I read the book, Surprised by Oxford, and I LOVED how many poetic references were given. Different Romantics were quoted throughout the text, and I thought the interweaving of such beautiful language with the author's story was just fantastic. I looked at this book, I thought back to Anne-Marie's post, and I realized how much I missed poetry. Why should poetry  memorization wait for the day that I begin homeschooling, when I could start now?

I pulled my poems from a Victorian Era college course off the bookshelf. Flipping through, I looked back on these old friends. Tennyson...Rossetti...ah, Gerard Manley Hopkins! "God's Grandeur" caught my eye, so I began memorizing it. 

As I began dedicating Hopkins' words to my mind and heart, I sensed a change in my normal day-to-day routine. While taking walks, dancing around the room with my toddler, or cleaning up the living room floor, instead of thinking about all the things on my To Do list or about negative experiences with other people (admit it: we do this way more than we should!), my mind was contemplating beauty. Even if I was surrounded by dozens of plastic pegs, stuffed animals, and board books, my heart was lifted to think about Higher Things. And as my flip-flop clad feet pattered across the brown grass in the park, my toddler shouting "Quack!" at the ducks, verses of hope, painstakingly crafted, filtered through my mind. 

"The world is charged with the grandeur of God..."

Once I had committed this poem to memory, I decided to move onto a rather different sort of poem. And here, I have a scandalous confession to make: I love The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (both by the brilliant J.R.R. Tolkien), BUT oftentimes, while reading those books, I would skim over the long songs and poems. I'd think, They're long, they break up the story, and I want to get to the action! This is so sad. Songs and poetry bring a depth and richness to a culture. They preserve a culture's stories and traditions, and they are a way in which Tolkien crafted his gorgeous world of Middle-Earth. So, in reparation for my past disregard of his long poems and songs, I decided that my second poem would be from Tolkien's collection of work. 

"As I tramp through the grass/Trees crack as I pass..."

"Oliphant" was an extremely fun poem to memorize, and I think my toddler enjoyed it almost as much as I did! (I'd stamp and sway and speak in a deep voice while practicing it while he laughed and laughed!) Tolkien has so many delightful poems, and not only do I like them for myself, but as my son grows, I think he'll enjoy hearing about Oliphants, the Man in the Moon, and Tom Bombadil. 

Oh yes, Tom Bombadil. I have decided that I want to memorize "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil," and I managed to get the first page down pretty quickly. I have 4 more pages to go, though, and in the past week or so I have not made any headway whatsoever-I have difficulty leaving the comfort of the first page! 

Eventually, I want to dig out my book on the Romantics (whenever I find it, since I'm guessing it's still packed away with some other college books) and memorize some of that. Maybe throw some more Hopkins into the mix. I'd also love to learn "The Lady of Shalott," so I can fully embrace my inner Anne Shirley. This exploration into the beauty of the written word has been so fabulous, and I love committing these poems to memory. There's something about memorizing that really imprints these words and messages into my soul. In the book The Lifegiving Home, Sally Clarkson discusses this idea as she writes: 
"Words make world--they form an inner idea of excellence and they echo in the mind at moments when we most need direction. The words stored in the  mind and imagination through memorization create an ongoing interior conversation that inspires, challenges, and directs people in their moments of choice." 
Poetry memorization should not be relegated to classrooms full of children; every person can benefit from this practice. Whether it helps to keep our minds sharp and helps us focus or it simply pulls us out of the mundane routine of daily life, reflecting on great poetry is a practice that I highly recommend to each person. I am so grateful that I picked up my poetry books once again, and I am excited to continue this journey of learning and beauty. 


  1. Yay! It's so fun! I find myself repeating them throughout the day, just because I can. It helps me slow down some. We loved "To the Virgins to Make Much of Time" by Robert Herrick. We just finished "The Crystal Forest" by William Sharp - it's the poem Belle quotes to the Beast in the new Beauty and the Beast. And you can't beat Robert Frost. I think we will do some Emily Dickinson soon.

    1. I've read that poem by Herrick before! I'm going to have to look up that William Sharp poem, if only because of the Beauty and the Beast tie in :) Frost is so classic, but I haven't memorized any of his stuff, so I should probably do that soon. I love Emily Dickinson-I still remember part of the Dickinson poem that I memorized about 10 years ago! There's just so much beautiful poetry out there to memorize!

  2. This is so interesting to me! Memorization wasn't a big part of my childhood (I remember a Christmas poem I memorized for a performance but nothing else off the top of my head), and I've always wondered why it's such a big deal for some parents teaching their kids. So this is so interesting to hear of your recent experience! I love how you said it helps you pause and slow down. I never felt like I was good at memorization, but I love how you explain it has been helpful to you!