I had to memorize poetry in elementary school. I can still recite I Keep Three Wishes Ready by Annette Wynne which I performed at a poetry festival in Grade Three. I remember every word of The Song My Paddle Sings by Emily Pauline Johnson which I memorized in grade four. At some point in my school life, I memorized The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and The Day is Done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Many times when I’ve needed to calm my mind or heart I have recited one of those poems.
My grandmother Margaretha Peters had a marvellous memory for poetry and well into her 90s could still recite long German narrative poems. An excerpt from a favourite poem is engraved on her tombstone.
Yesterday The Atlantic published an article by Elliot Cohen called Go Memorize a Poem. Cohen suggests that memorizing a poem may be just what we need to do in these uncertain times. We can choose a poem that gives us hope, a poem that inspires us or brings us peace.
Cohen talks about how civil rights leaders John Lewis and Nelson Mandela both believed in the power of the poem Invictus by W.E. Henley. Cohen says that poems we have memorized can stave off self-pity, offer us a new world view and make us feel powerful. Oprah Winfrey has often stated that Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou is that special kind of poem for her. Stephen Spielberg says for him it‘s Self-Portrait by David Whyte.
I published a poem by Marge Piercy with my blog post on Sunday and one of my readers commented that she was going to memorize it.
I think it may be a good time to add another memorized poem to my canon. What should I choose? What poem might be the perfect one for you to memorize right now?