Poems to Learn by Heart by Ana Sampson

Poems to Learn by Heart, Ana Sampson book

“Reading poetry – letting phrases wash over you and seizing on the passages that best describe a certain feeling – is a wonderful way to spend time. Committing those same poems to memory, so you have within yourself a storehouse of the most beautiful and, I would argue, useful words in the language, is hugely rewarding and a skill worth cultivating.”

~  Ana Sampson

I picked this book up in the library partly because of the exquisite cover and partly because of the title. Do you know any poems by heart?

About ten years ago I started keeping a little notebook in my bag in which I wrote some of my favourite shortish poems. Whenever I was waiting for the bus or in a queue somewhere or otherwise twiddling my thumbs, I would take out my notebook and learn a line or two.

I recommend starting with a poem that you love, here are some examples that I began with:

I’m nobody! Who are you? – Emily Dickinson

A Birthday – Christina Rossetti

Jabberwocky – Lewis Carroll

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening – Robert Frost

Success is Counted Sweetest – Emily Dickinson

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud – William Wordsworth

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day (Sonnet 18) – William Shakespeare

In the introduction of the book, Ana describes the process of memorisation:

“Once you’ve chosen a poem, write it out on a piece of paper to get a feel for the lines. Read it aloud several times, and you may find it helpful to walk in time with the poem’s rhythm and recite the words in time with your footsteps. Take it line by line: recite the first line until it is perfect (choosing a very famous poem will help here, as you will likely already know the opening) then add the second, and so on. Do not learn a new line until you can recite the previous lines perfectly. You might find it helpful to recite the poem daily, and attaching visual cues (or other prompts) to each line of the poem will enable you to walk through the lines without forgetting what comes next. Before long, the poem is yours: caught fast in memory and ready to be recalled when wanted and needed.”

‘Tis likely a very old-fashioned thing to do, and I’m glad I wasn’t made to learn poetry by heart in school as older generations had to. It probably would have put me off for life. But I’m often surprised by how much the lines of the poem become embedded in your mind and bubble to the surface at unexpected times. Little things – daffodils in springtime, an apple tree heavy with fruit, a summer’s day… and a line or two of the poem will wander unbidden into my conscious mind.

If you are interested in learning poems by heart, then I would recommend this book. It is brimming with ideas and inspiration.

8 thoughts on “Poems to Learn by Heart by Ana Sampson

  1. I had to learn sonnet 18 at school and it’s with me to this day – and my memory is dreadful! It’s never occurred to me to try and learn poetry now, but it would be wonderful to wander around with verse in my head, readily accessible!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My memory is not so good either. The rhythm and rhyme of sonnet 18 helps it to stick in the mind, I think. It always reminds me of Catherine Zeta Jones in the tv series ‘the darling buds of May’

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I know a couple of poems by heart, but I wish I knew more, I’ve always been impressed by people who can recite or even just partially quote poetry. I don’t even remember my own poems, lol!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, I’ve learned (memorized) only one poem.

    “Nature’s first green is gold,
    Her hardest hue to hold.
    Her early leaf’s a flower,
    But only so an hour.
    Then leaf subsides to leaf,
    So Eden sank to grief.
    So Dawn goes down to day,
    Nothing Gold can stay.”

    by Robert Frost

    There’s a song (not with the words of the poem, but because of the poem:

    Loved your post, and thank you for bringing me to my place in time where things still stay gold!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a beautiful poem that I’ve not heard before, nor the Stevie Wonder song. It’s bittersweet and sad but beautiful too. Thank you for sharing it here Fim. x

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I was one of the children who ‘had’ to learn poems at school but, actually, I loved doing so. This was at primary school and I found most of them quite enchanting. I still remember some of my favourite from that time, which is Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott. Also, I was ill a lot as a child and had many poems read to me, amongst which were those by A. A. Milne, like Sneezles and Wheezles, and King John’s Christmas.


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