4. January 2023

Poetry by heart – a really retro new year’s resolution

Poetry book with yellow rose

I never bothered learning poetry by heart. In fact, poetry was never really my thing – period.


As part of our English GCSE*, we were obliged to try our hand at poetry analysis, earnestly scribbling notes into the standard issue anthologies. Although it was a pleasure to spend time immersed in “Stop All the Clocks” by W.H. Auden (immortalised in the 1994 film “Four Weddings and a Funeral“), I could never get fired up about this facet of the written word.

At once being expected to creatively interpret the childhood memories of Irish poet Seamus Heaney while trying desperately to keep my alliteration from my assonance — AND be able to spell “onomatopoeia” correctly on demand…Well, it was all a bit overwhelming! I breathed a massive sigh of relief when we moved on to our set text, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Novels are so much easier to deal with!

For the next 25 years, I would remain devoted to literature while leaving poetry to gather dust on some unloved shelf at the back of my brain.

Until, at the end of last year, I suddenly and inexplicably developed an urge to learn some poetry by heart. No one does this anymore. Why would you, when all the poems you can shake a stick at are available on the internet and can be downloaded at the click of a button?

And so I decided to do my bit to revive the dying art of learning poetry by heart with a pleasantly retro new year’s resolution. I would make a list of 12 poems, pick one at random at the start of each month, and learn it word-for-word. While I’m waiting for the dinner to cook, while I’m sitting on the bus, while I’m out running. There are so many pockets of fallow time in the day into which I can easily slot the task!

The Other Half has agreed to test my knowledge at the end of the month. I’ve got my blindfold at the ready — there will be no peeking and no cheating!

Of course, I put a few of my own personal favourites together first. But I also thought it would be a good idea to take on requests from friends and family. Reciting their favourite poetry for them would be a nice gift that costs nothing, doesn’t cause clutter and makes them happy. I’d definitely be chuffed if they did that for me!

Here is the current list:

  • If — Rudyard Kipling
  • Beans with Garlic — Charles Bukowski (my all-time favourite)
  • Digging — Seamus Heaney
  • Sea Fever — John Masefield
  • Crossing the Bar — Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • The Lion & Albert — Marriott Edgar
  • A Valediction — John Donne
  • The Brook — Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • So You Want To Be a Writer? – Charles Bukowski
  • Men on Allotments — Ursula Askham Fanthorpe
  • Dulce et Decorum Est – Wilfred Owen
  • Ozymandias – Percy Bysshe Shelley

And the randomiser tells me that the poem I shall by learning in January is….“If” by Rudyard Kipling!

Let the challenge commence!


*GCSE = General Certificate of General Education. An academic qualification in a certain subject, taken in schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, usually at age 16. Certain subjects (e.g. English language & literature and mathematics) are mandatory and must be taken by all pupils, while others are optional (e.g. art, business studies). Now you know.


Related articles:

“If” by Rudyard Kipling – a very British poem?

The Poetry Project, year 2: from quirky new year’s resolution to revivifying an ancient art

Does writing need an audience to have a point?

Augustus Gloop HAS to be fat – sorry, snowflakes!


Photo credit: ganusik13 on Envato Elements