What poetry can you recite by heart?

So, what poems or iambic pentameters can you recite by heart?

I had to memorise various poetry at school, most of which has long since left my head. But the two that I’ve never lost are Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee and Tolkein’s In Moira, in Khazad-dum.

Sam McGee has stayed with me because it’s a well-known, funny Canadian poem celebrating the North; In Moira because it’s Tolkein, dammit, and for some reason of all the poems, it’s the one that hit me most.

How 'bout you? and if you’ve got a poem memorised, how come?

From MacBeth, “I will not yield to kiss the ground” because Fr. Debosier required it of us in English class.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses because it is so damn good. “…and drunk delight of battle with my peers, far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.”

I know “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes by heart, because it’s my favorite poem. Perfectly and succinctly conveys the feeling of being dangerously pissed off.

I remember most of “Ozymandias” by Shelley, although I couldn’t tell you why that one stuck in my head.

And I remember most of Roy Blount, Jr.'s poetry, but it’s mostly gag stuff. (“I could do some damage/to a ham and cheese samich” kind of thing).

"'Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe
All mimsy were the borogoves
And the momeraths outgrabe!

Beware the Jabberwock, my son…"

Aw, damn, that’s all I remember. I memorized it Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” in its entirety in high school, just for fun, and to impress potential boyfriends. And my phone never stopped ringing, I can tell you that. Nothing impresses sixteen year old boys like frumious bandersnatches.


I can recite Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, and Mrs. McTwitter by Shel Silverstein. I feel like there’s more Silverstein I know by heart but I can’t think of them, so perhaps I’ll pop back in if they come to me.

“Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost (I just really like it)
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost (memorized for a middle school project 17 years ago; kinda stuck with me)

-a lot from Tolkein from sheer repetition, a personal fave being “In Western Lands Beneath the Sun…”

There once was a man from Nantucket….

Lots of Kipling, and random chunks of Shakespeare.

That’s kind of eerie that we both mentioned the same poem within one minute of each other. Would you like to be my high school boyfried? Even if you are not, in fact, a boy?


Jabberwocky here too (just because).

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and The Road Not Taken. My mom read them on tape along with some short stories and other poems, and I used to listen to them a lot.

I used to be able to recite Horton the Elephant Hatches an Egg all the way through, but I’m afraid I would get bogged down in a few places now. (No reason, particularly, I just wanted to memorize it.)

Very Like a Whale, by Ogden Nash, because I came across it in my high school poetry book and thought it was absolutely hilarious.

Myriad short ditties and limericks and things that float around in my head and surface at inopportune moments. Stuff along the lines of *Some primal termite knocked on wood / And tasted it, and found it good / And that is why your Cousin May / Fell through the parlor floor today. *

  • Listen to the Musn’ts child
    Listen to the Don’ts…*

It’s by Shel Silverstien. I don’t know it’s name, but a friend showed it to me as I was working my butt off to get to Kenya. Then, when I was there, she sent it to me hand-written on pink Invader Zim paper. I still have that paper, and I love the poem.

The first sentence (18 lines) of the Prologue to Canterbury Tales.
The first scene (10 lines) of Macbeth.

Zjestika, oooh that is weird! If you’d like to believe that I’m your high school boyfriend, be my guest. My lack of penis would beg to differ, though. :smiley:

I realized the OP asked why it was we knew these poems by heart. Well, the Shel Silverstein poem is very short:

Mrs. McTwitter, the babysitter
I think she’s a little bit crazy
She thinks a babysitter’s
s’posed to sit upon the baby

So that was a quick study. As for Jabberwocky, I took a Voice for the Actor class in college and we were asked to memorize a poem of choice. I’d always loved Alice in Wonderland and so that poem came to mind. The funny thing is after I’d learned it, my parents and I would randomly recite it together at the dinner table because they knew it, too. We’re a family of literate dorks, haha.

Housman’s Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries. And I used to know Ozymandias, but not any more.

I know a whole bunch, but a couple that have stuck for a long time - If, Rudyard Kipling. Not terribly profound, but probably the first poem that allowed me to appreciate the art.

The St. Crispans speech in Henry Vth. How American kids can learn the “Win one for the Gipper” speech but remain ignorant of this masterpiece of motivation is beyond me.

*But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
Make him a member of the gentry, even if he is a commoner.
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Lots of Shakespeare that I had to rote learn at school:

I know you all, and will a while uphold the unyokèd humour of your idleness…
(Henry IV, Part I)

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York…
(Richard III)

And lots of Latin, including big chunks of Book II of the AeneidConticuere omnes, intentique ora tenebant.

And, of course, Mrs Felicia Heman’s gloriously kitsch poem Casabianca:
The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though child-like form.

The flames rolled on–he would not go
Without his Father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud–‘say, Father, say
If yet my task is done?’
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

‘Speak, father!’ once again he cried,
‘If I may yet be gone!’
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death
In still yet brave despair.

And shouted but once more aloud,
‘My father! must I stay?’
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound–
The boy–oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!–

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part–
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.

*Edna St. Vincent Millay *
I Burn My Candle

**My candle burns at both ends **

I used to know
Lewis Carroll

But apparently I’ve forgotten most of it.

I have quite a few bible and other scripture verses memorized, quite a few of which seem poetry to me.

I’m sure there are others I’ll think of as soon as I hit send.

WE’VE fought with many men acrost the seas,
An’ some of ’em was brave an’ some was not:
The Paythan an’ the Zulu an’ Burmese;
But the Fuzzy was the finest o’ the lot.
We never got a ha’porth’s change of ’im:
’E squatted in the scrub an’ ’ocked our ’orses,
’E cut our sentries up at Suakim,
An’ ’e played the cat an’ banjo with our forces.
So ’ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ’ome in the Soudan;
You’re a pore benighted ’eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;
We gives you your certificate, an’ if you want it signed
We’ll come an’ ’ave a romp with you whenever you’re inclined.

I confess. I used to have my students memorize Yeats so that the constant repetition would help me to remember the poetry I loved so much.

There were three in particular:

  1. “Easter, 1916” – the one that ends with the words “a terrible beauty is born.” I thought about it this week with one of the leaders of the modern IRA died. I am a pacifist and a Protestant. But I am also a rebel and a McBride. I will leave it at that.

  2. “When You Are Old and Grey” – I used to identify with this one because of love that had to be put aside long ago. But now that I am old with a little bit of gray, I’d just rather nod and sleep than remember that “one man loved the pilgrim soul” in me.

  3. “The Lake Isle of Innesfree” – Such a peaceful poem to think about now that I have such a peaceful life away from the city concrete.

I know Each Peach Pear Plumb, and can chorus it along with my father; ‘Each Peach Pear Plumb, I spy Tom Thumb…’. Also some Baxter - Maori Jesus and most of Wild Bees.