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Memorize a Poem: Expand Your Brain

by Miriam Downey 7. March 2012 16:34

When I was a piano teacher, I required my students to memorize two pieces every year--one to play at the Christmas piano recital and one to play at the spring recital. I noticed two things from that requirement: 1) some children memorize easily and for others the experience is difficult, but all my students grew in their piano playing ability as they memorized their pieces; 2) whenever those children sat down at the piano recreationally, they played those memorized pieces. The experience of memorizing a piece gave them instant access to the instrument, and they were able to play their memorized pieces with a great deal more feeling than they could when they played them with the music.

I thought about this experience as I was working on last week's blog posting about the poetry in the FWU curriculum. Should school children be required to memorize poetry? isn't that just too old-fashioned? I suggest that there is as great a value in memorizing a poem as there is in memorizing a piano piece or lines for a play. These activities stretch and activate parts of your brain that are often dormant. And the thing about a memorized poem is that it stays with you your entire life. You can call it up whenever you need it.

Let me give you an example. Once for a presentation as a child, I had to memorize I thank you God by e.e. cummings. It begins like this:

i thank you God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue, true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(e.e.cummings never used capital letters and hardly ever used punctuation. That was just his style. One of the things I had to learn about when I learned this poem was why he wrote that way.) Well, the point of telling you this is that for every morning all the rest of my life, I have recited that poem as a morning prayer. It has sustained me my entire life.

Here are some things children learn by memorizing and reciting poetry:

1) A richness of vocabulary

2) A feel for the English language in general. Important if they are going to speak, write, and read English with ease.

3) An enormous amount about order, measure, proportion, balance, symmetry, agreement, temporal relationships, and mood.

4) Rhythm and rhyme

5) An increased brain capacity. (The brain is not a quart jar that will be filled up!)

So...what to memorize? Here are some suggestions based on books that are in the Free World U library and some easily accessible poetry available online. For more suggestions of poetry books, see last week's blog posting.


Grades K-2

     Stevenson, Robert Louis: A Child's Garden of Verse. Look up The Swing. It is a good one to say when you are swinging on the swing set.

     Lear, Edward: The Book of Nonsense

     Milne, A. A.: When We Were Very Young.

Grades 3-6

     Milne, A. A. Now We Are Six.

     Silverstein, Shel: Where the Sidewalk Ends. Shel Silverstein has a wonderful website with a lot of his poems on it. check it out:

     Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth: The Children's Longfellow. Try out Hiawatha.

Grades 7-12

     American Poetry. Pick out something by Robert Frost. Perhaps...Stopping by the Woods or The Road not Taken.

     Shakespeare, William: The Complete Works.  Learn a speech from a play or a sonnet.

     The Works of Edgar Allen Poe. Try out The Raven.

If all else fails, which it might have with one of my children, have them memorize a joke or a riddle and practice telling it out loud. Your child will get the memorization practice and the speaking ability. All that will be missing will be the beauty of the poetry.

Here is an interesting essay about memorizing poetry: resources/


Comments (4) -

business directory
business directory United States
4/10/2012 1:56:50 AM #

Appreciate the info.
Thanks for this.


Myrta United States
5/25/2014 3:48:41 PM #

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Grab Attention
Grab Attention United States
6/13/2014 11:28:28 AM #

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the lovely dragon
the lovely dragon United States
9/22/2014 5:00:46 AM #

I love you.


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