This month I’m celebrating an anniversary all my own. Three years ago in August, I started memorizing poems. When I first heard about the idea, it hit me immediately like the right one, something I was primed for. Sometimes when you are shopping for clothes, you try on a garment that amazingly, almost miraculously fits precisely and looks just right. That’s exactly what this idea was for me.
I have enriched myself in so many ways by memorizing poems. After committing even one to memory and for sure after 66, I have a wealth of beautiful words and images ready at a moment’s notice to comfort, to entertain, to move. Poems, I have discovered, are often a welcome addition to a conversation among friends, especially later in the evening over port or around a campfire. Memorized poems recited have been a gift to my family, my wife and children and others, who enjoy hearing them and are moved by them. I have even experienced emotional and psychological benefits from memorizing poetry.
Memorizing poems led to literary events over the past three years such as my wife’s fiftieth birthday party in which all the gifts were poems. Four hours of good food, good conversation, and 50 poems, classic and original, recited from memory and read, is a powerful and memorable way to celebrate such a milestone. Of course, memorizing poems played a role in my decision to host Burns Suppers for the last three years.
In three years I have memorized 66 poems, though one, the Gettysburg Address, is poetic prose. I have memorized 17 poems by Robert Burns, my favorite poet. I have three Shakespeare sonnets under my belt, two I learned to recite for my bride on our wedding anniversary, and one I spoke at dinner after our daughter’s wedding. I’ve learned many familiar, well-loved poems, such as “The Road Less Traveled” by Robert Frost, because that’s what people enjoy listening to (and for good reason: I also enjoy reciting them). I’ve also learned less-known poems by Dylan Thomas, William Butler Yeats, Walt Whitman and others. I’ve learned four poems about autumn, three about spring, and two about winter. My repertoire includes nine on the subject of love and two about death.
I’m celebrating this anniversary by reviewing some of the poems I’ve let slip a bit. I have found that I have to keep up the ones I’ve already committed to memory while continuing to learn the new. Ironically and humorously, I have a hard time remembering what I’ve memorized. Do I need to memorize the list of what I’ve memorized? I have posted the list in The Life Literary and will keep it up-to-date, adding new poems as I learn them.
With all the writing I’m doing these days, I have less time to memorize poems. That’s o.k. I still add new ones to my repertoire. When I first started, I was learning one a month or even more. Now, it’s one every two or three months.
I am a poem memory advocate. I suggest that anyone, possibly even everyone, can benefit from memorizing a poem. It doesn’t have to be a long one. Another reason I have posted my list is to give others examples of poems they could memorize. I urge you to make the decision to memorize a poem, then set aside a little time each day, maybe while taking a walk, maybe early in the morning while you’re drinking your coffee, and learn it, one word, one phrase, one little bit at a time. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll get from it.