Learning poetry by heart has, it seems to me, often been promoted as A GOOD THING. At the time of writing, I have no firm opinion about whether or not it should feature in my proposals for an alternative education system.
1770-1850 britischer Dichter.CDV-Foto 5,9 x 8,2 cm nach einem Gemälde, herausgegeben von Friedrich Bruckmann Verlag München London.
I don’t remember ever being made to learn poetry by heart. I did learn chunks of Browning for quotation in exams. Now whenever I re-read Browning (yes, I really sometimes do) I realise I often learnt it wrong.
Some poetry has just stuck with me because I like it, and because I read it so much I decided I wanted to make sure I had it accurately in my head. Even then, I have to occasionally go back and refresh my memory.
Most recently, I’ve checked up on ‘Sorry ‘Bout That’ by Adrian Mitchell. I was missing a couple of verses, but I was pretty nearly word perfect. It’s still biting and bitingly relevant, even though it must be 40 or so years old. It has the advantage of having a clear structure; this and rhythm are what make some poetry (and most lyrics) easier to memorise. This none often pops up in my head.
From that era comes ‘Vinegar’ by Roger McGough (why isn’t he Poet Laureate?) which has the advantage of being short. Another short one which just stuck was ‘The Narrow Sea’ by Robert Graves (who would probably have refused the offer of the Laureateship.) I did make the conscious effort to learn ‘Lion Lover’ by Graves; maybe because I’m a Leo.
I also took the time to learn ‘The Second Coming’ by Yeats (because I love it, if love is the right word for such a chilling piece) and ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ (because it was my mother’s favourite poem.)
Oddly enough, we once set Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ for year 6 to learn and it has stuck with me, pleasingly. (Remember, PG? You were PC then!) I also learnt ‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll as a teacher, because I love it and was always misquoting it.
That’s about it. I am pleased to see I keep mentioning pleasure here; whether this is a pleasure that all should have is a question for another time. For me, this poetry comes back at odd times; when I’m going to sleep I sometimes run through the repertoire. I’m glad I learnt them.
(I said in my last post that I wanted to learn more from ‘The Tempest’ but I have just remembered that I do know ‘Full Fathom Five’- or is it fadom? I must learn the bit that goes before- “This music crept upon me by the waters……” Actually it should be “This music crept by me…..” There is also a lovely Rupert Brooke sonnet which goes: “O! Death will find me long before I tire/ Of watching you.” One day…)
[I will leave you, dear reader, to work out the pictures. If puzzled, apply for answers! All are copyright free; as far as possible I’ve tried to do this for every blog post. I can’t find any copyright free for McGough or Graves.]
[All the poems are very available; Mc Gough is still very much alive, and Mitchell is still in copyright, so buy the books rather than go online. Poets and their families have to eat.]
Notes one day later: Last night as I was going through the repertoire in my head before falling asleep, I realised I also know ‘My Sad Captains’ by Thom Gunn. The work of Robert Graves is also in copyright, so buy it, don’t get it online. I realised that if you hover your mouse over the pictures, they come up with the names of the poets! Not such a puzzle.