Poetry 101: Memorization

Poetic License

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Poetry in the Oral Tradition

Poetry was originally a verbal art, with epic poems like The Odyssey being presented and presented down through a purely oral tradition. Now, we’re seeing a return to the oral tradition through the performance poetry scene (commonly known as “slam poetry”). But what’s the value of memorization?

First, it gives us the opportunity to present poetry–our own or simply our favorites–with the sort of energy and liveliness that are only possible in person.

Second, you’d be surprised how effective memorization is as an editing tool. Once you’ve memorized your own poetry, it’s easy to work through the narrative flow and verbiage.

And lastly, it makes you a more interesting, sexy person. (Seriously, who doesn’t like hearing someone recite poetry? So long as it doesn’t take too long, that is.) So with that in mind …

Memorize a Poem

For your pleasure, we’ve collected a few (super short) poems to choose from.

Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams

so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

Fire And Ice

by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire;

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To know that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

This Is Just to Say

by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

Pick a poem. Memorize it. Write it down and check it against the original. Don’t cheat!

Once you’ve got it memorized, brag in the comments.

Now go back to the poetry basics hub page, download the Poetic License images, print ’em, and brag to your friends!