Friday, November 9, 2007

Poetry Friday: I want to know it by heart

I made a vow to memorize a poem this month. Adrienne inspired me.

But memorization doesn't come as easily to me as it did when I was a teenager. I once memorized an entire scene in a couple of hours when an actress had to drop out of a theater showcase we were performing that night. And I can still recite, from 9th grade English class, Cassius's speech from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:
"Why, man he doth bestride the narrow world
like a Colossus
and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves. Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
But now? Tell me a simple thing, like your name, and I'll forget it in two seconds.

So to help my old brain, I made an audio recording of me reading the poem I want to memorize: God's Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

If you want to join me, here's a list of great tips to help you memorize poetry. And from the same source, a list of "starter" poems to try. There is also a whole site devoted to a national recitation contest, Poetry Out Loud, and one that podcasts classic poetry in a deep, rich voice with an English accent. (Don't know who it is, because the "About Me" section says: "Who I am is not important. The point is the poetry."

Also, since cloudscome is launching her brilliant idea to leave poetry where people might find it, I'm going to post this one inside that gazebo I blogged about several Poetry Fridays ago. I wonder what my poetry graffiti friends will think of it?

God's Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

---Gerard Manley Hopkins

***For another reading of this poem, go to the Favorite Poem Project and click on the Stanley Kunitz video link. He blew me away talking about how he encountered this poem for the first time and what it meant to him.

Poetry Friday is hosted by a wrung sponge.


  1. We must be on the same wavelength, because I'm posting my poem in a gazebo too! I'd love to see the response when people read them.

  2. Hey, Sara. Thanks to you and Adrienne for the inspiration. I think I'm going to try to memorize a Frost poem.

    I plan to post Kristine O'Connell George's poem "Tree Traffic" at the nature center somewhere.

  3. Thanks Sara for this beautiful poem and the chance to hear your voice. I always learn so much when I come to your blog. It's become on of my favorite places on the web.

    I'm going to try to memorize something by Pablo Neruda in Spanish. Let's really test me!

    I think I'll post some Dylan Thomas in the Metro station this morning.

  4. I love this one by Hopkins, and it's so funny that you're posting about memorization, because this a.m. I posted a Billy Collins poem called "Forgetfulness." :-)

    You're all inspiring me to memorize a beloved poem, too.

    I love Poetry Friday.

  5. Childhood was spent memorizing "memory verses" at church, so I have a better memory than most... if things are set to music, like many of my memory verses were. I love GMH - but he's REALLY HARD to memorize! I totally say "GO Sara!" and do a little "go" dance in your general direction -- I love the beautiful cadences of the poem, and you're going to totally whip this.

    And I might be talked into that kind of inspiration myself... we'll see. My brain may be overfull for memorization this month...

  6. I'm going to try to memorize a new poem this month, too, just because you've inspired me.

    And according to Bruce Coville, your way of memorizing it was the best way to go about it. He said that listening to someone else read it (as in the Poetry Speaks) is good, but recording yourself reading is better, because you learn it with your own emphasis, pause, etc.

  7. Look at all these brave souls taking up the challenge. Bravo!

    Just so you know, this wasn't easy. I had to publicly declare my intention at Adrienne's so that I'd actually do it. And Kelly (and Bruce) are right. Making the podcast really, really helped me memorize it.

    TadMack, I had no idea GMH was hard. I thought it was just my old brain fighting me.

  8. I used to have PIED BEAUTY by GMH memorized. I'm inspired to polish it up so I have it ready whenever I need it!

  9. I memorized Jabberwocky many years ago and I think I still have it. TadMack, I used to have to memorize Bible verses too, and I still do it. Many benefits, there!

    I am happy to hear of the gazebo poems. I have a gazebo in a community garden where I love to walk and take photos, so maybe I'll do this too! We could have a club or something... Poetry Gardeners... Wouldn't it be fun to have a camera recording people's reactions.

  10. Yes, a poetry camera!

    BTW, I was playing with my .Mac site and the link from here was broken for awhile. The link is: podcasts, or cut and paste this:

    I'm still figuring out the consequences of my constant tweaking...

  11. "I'm still figuring out the consequences of my constant tweaking..."

    LOL. Amen sister. Tweaking all over the place, and let the chips fall where they may.

    Whenever I hear that word "consequences" I have to remember what my best friend from high school said when I told her I was pregnant without the benefit of clergy. She said, "Oh Andi. You never DID understand about the consequences of things."

    Oy. She was right. But in that case it turned out OK because my son is such a wonderful boy.

    Just watch out for consequences!

  12. Sara

    That's a beautiful poem, and a tough one to memorize, too! Congratulations on the decision and on the reading, too.

    One other tip that I would offer for memorization (besides your excellent references): find the key words that are the poem's backbone. The rest of the poem will hang on them for you.

    Thank you for inspiring so many to considering both memorizing poetry and reading it aloud.

    Many thanks, too, for the mention of Classic Poetry Aloud.

    The guy with the English accent.

  13. Thanks for stopping by, guy with the English accent. :)

    I like your suggestion about finding the "backbone" of a poem first. In a way, the "bones" of this GMH poem helped me not only to memorize it, but also to write my later poem, Inked. Who would have thought that memorizing a poem would have led to so much?


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