Weekly Challenge #2: Memorize a Poem (How’d You Do?)


Last week, I suggested memorizing a poem, and you guys were so into it! I was thrilled. How did you do? Here’s my recap….

The hardest part, I thought, was choosing a poem.

My two favorite poems are If and Wild Geese, but I wanted to learn something new to me…

I loved this one about birth.
I loved this one about sadness.
I loved these four about love.
I loved this one about fate.
I loved this one about loneliness.
I loved this one about divorce.
I loved this one about death.
And this one just made me smile.

In the end, I chose this beautiful poem about gratitude and not taking things for granted, which was suggested by a reader named Margaux (thanks, Margaux!).

by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Last week, a reader named Lauren said, “My professor at Columbia called this kind of memorization investing in your own ‘mental furniture.’ He had memorized most of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and he loved the idea that he’d always have those words as furniture in his head for his thoughts to sit on, even in old age.” Isn’t that a great image?

What about you? Can’t wait to hear which poems you chose! I love you guys!

P.S. All the fall challenges.

(Photo by Becky)

  1. I likewise didn’t get entirely through however almost, A Daylight Art by my preferred artist Seamus Heaney. I enthusiastically suggest any of his assortments, this one is from The Haw Lantern. I will say, however I fizzled, I cherished having this test in the rear of my head all week, coming back to the sonnet again and again caused an opportunity to feel pensive.

  2. Julie says...

    Love this challenge, and love reading all those shared in the comments. I have two:
    Dead Still by Andrei Voznesensky

    And another amazing parenting poem, Good Bones by Maggie Smith:
    Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
    Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
    in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
    a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
    I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
    fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
    estimate, though I keep this from my children.
    For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
    For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
    sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
    is at least half terrible, and for every kind
    stranger, there is one who would break you,
    though I keep this from my children. I am trying
    to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
    walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
    about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
    right? You could make this place beautiful.

  3. Jill Z. says...

    Coming back to this idea many years later. Lately I have been feeling the need to take on a new challenge, one more mental than physical, and decided I’d try to memorize a poems. I vaguely recalled that you had written about poetry once or twice through the years, and so I came here looking for ideas for a poem to memorize. Wild Geese was lovely and seemed not too daunting of a place to start.

    What I didn’t realize was how memorizing a poem isn’t just about reciting the lines. Speaking the words aloud, over and over again, and the act of pulling them from the page that I’ve imprinted in my head, has completely cracked open new meaning and beauty for me. As I memorized each line, moving on only after I’d internalized all of the lines before, I came to: “Meanwhile the while geese, high in the clean blue air,/ are heading home again.” And tears came to my eyes with the sheer joy and pain of that image. What a gift to myself.

  4. Omaya says...

    I dance for a local modern dance company. The dancers graciously agreed to dance at my wedding ceremony to a reading of “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost (my husband’s selection). When our company’s spring show came around, we needed a filler piece between larger dances, and the director decided to use the poem movement. Granted, I obviously wasn’t in the dance because I was the bride originally! Instead, jumped in as the reader. I didn’t even realize I had committed the poem to memory already. I last memorized a poem in elementary school, and here I was walking across the stage, moving along with dancers, saying some pretty incredible words, for multiple shows. It was quite an experience.

  5. lynne says...

    I love your blog! Here is a poem i read regularly.

    walking prayer: by Donna Miesbach

    May your steps be filled with confidence.
    May they take you to inspiring places.
    May they feed you at your deepest levels.
    May they spark your imagination and replenish your spirit.
    May they break through the tangled places in your life, and be for
    you a way of pilgrimage along the secret mountain of your life, and
    as you seek the path to climb it.
    May you find it goes within.
    May it lead you to peaceful places and healing waters.
    May it call you to quiet times that renew and restore
    As only true solitude can do.

  6. Trishita says...

    If by Rudyard Kipling is my favourite too! Ever since I was 14 years old.

  7. This is such a beautiful poem. I think I must share it.

  8. Well I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts.

  9. jen says...

    Dover Beach. Matthew Arnold. The most beautiful, saddest poem I know. “Where ignorant armies clash by night.” and “Ah, love, let us be true to one another.”

  10. Hi Jo! This is a late comment, but I really enjoy this idea, and I couldn’t help but smile when I read your last line: “I love you guys!” because I can genuinely feel your love for your readers. It’s wonderful how much positivity and light you bring into the world of so many, just by being you. I love you, too!

  11. aafrin says...

    My favorite poem is from Christina Rossetti called “Remember”. I love it.
    “Remember me when I am gone away,
    Gone far away into the silent land;
    When you can no more hold me by the hand,
    Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
    Remember me when no more day by day
    You tell me of our future that you planned:
    Only remember me; you understand
    It will be late to counsel then or pray.
    Yet if you should forget me for a while
    And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
    For if the darkness and corruption leave
    A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
    Better by far you should forget and smile
    Than that you should remember and be sad.

  12. My favorite poem is actually in Spanish. It’s called Cultivo una rosa blanca…or in English, “I Cultivate a white rose”
    These poems bring back one of my favorite childhood of memories of going over to my grandparent’s house, and them teaching me to recite it.

  13. There is a free app by Penguin called Poems by Heart– might help with this challenge!

  14. I memorized a Shel Silverstein poem in the fourth grade, and to this day I still know it by heart. It’s the silliest thing, but it brings me great joy to pull it out at a moment’s notice. Perhaps you’ve read it before. It’s called Pinocchio –

  15. Another beautiful poem that I’ve loved since college and am going to memorise this week is Frank Marshall Davis’ ‘Four Glimpses of Night’ – what amazing imagery!

    Like a woman hurrying to her lover
    Night comes to the room of the world
    And lies, yielding and content
    Against the cool round face
    Of the moon.

    Night is a curious child, wandering
    Between earth and sky, creeping
    In windows and doors, daubing
    The entire neighborhood
    With purple paint.
    Is an apologetic mother
    Cloth in hand
    Following after.

    From door to door
    Night sells
    Black bags of peppermint stars
    Heaping cones of vanilla moon
    His wares are gone
    Then shuffles homeward
    Jingling the gray coins
    Of daybreak.

    Night’s brittle song, silver-thin,
    Shatters into a billion fragments
    Of quiet shadows
    At the blaring jazz
    Of a morning sun…..

  16. For me, it’s got to be Linda Ellis’ ‘The Dash Poem’ – so inspiring!

    I read of a man who stood to speak
    at the funeral of a friend.
    He referred to the dates on her tombstone
    from the beginning…to the end.

    He noted that first came the date of her birth
    and spoke of the following date with tears,
    but he said what mattered most of all
    was the dash between those years.

    For that dash represents all the time
    that she spent alive on earth…
    and now only those who loved her
    know what that little line is worth.

    For it matters not, how much we own;
    the cars….the house…the cash.
    What matters is how we live and love
    and how we spend our dash.

    So think about this long and hard…
    are there things you’d like to change?
    For you never know how much time is left.
    (You could be at “dash midrange.”)

    If we could just slow down enough
    to consider what’s true and real,
    and always try to understand
    the way other people feel.

    And be less quick to anger,
    and show appreciation more
    and love the people in our lives
    like we’ve never loved before.

    If we treat each other with respect,
    and more often wear a smile…
    remembering that this special dash
    might only last a little while.

    So, when your eulogy’s being read
    with your life’s actions to rehash…
    would you be proud of the things they
    say about how you spend your dash?

  17. HY says...

    This poem is beautiful! I hardly say this, but I feel moved.

  18. Joanna! Look what came up in one of your older posts… Do you remember writing it? Another (lovely) poem to memorize… ;)

    “I must learn to love the fool in me–the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled, masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of human aliveness, humility, and dignity but for my fool.” — Theodore I. Rubin, MD

    In the olden days, people memorized poems. If I were going to memorize one and hold it close to my heart, it would be this. (March 5, 2009)

  19. I’m coming to this after-the-fact but I love the idea of it. I think I should pick one anyway. Thanks for the challenge.

  20. Edgar Allan Poe -Anabel Lee.

    This poem I have always loved, so I mesmerized this one.

    “..They loved with a love that was more then love,
    I and my Anabel Lee…”

    I’m really enjoying this by the way :)

  21. I have only ever memorized my favourite lines from the poem ‘To a Skylark’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley (Husband to Mary Shelley of ‘Frankenstein’ fame).

    Yet, if we could scorn
    Hate and pride and fear,
    If we were things born
    Not to shed a tear,
    I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

    Maria xx

  22. I decided on Neil Gaiman’s Instructions–I am still learning it bit by bit and having a wonderful time doing so. With such a long poem, the key for me is learning bits…maybe I’ll get to all of it, maybe I’ll just have the bits that struck me most…we’ll see.
    Lauren’s mental furniture comment really struck a chord with me…I generally identify with Einstein’s comment about not learning things I can easily look up, however I’m seeing the value of having special tidbits floating about in my head.
    This may have just become a ‘thing’ for me…thanks for the challenge–I’ve enjoyed reading what other folks say about it, too!
    ~Happy Weekend

  23. It’s true,that idea of mental furniture. My husband is a priest, and when he visits the very elderly, often they can’t remember a lot of things and sometimes can’t even have a conversation, but when he sings an old hymn with them or performs the liturgy, they sing or speak along, bc thay memorized it so long ago, and in that moment, they are so happy and aware, and communing with this other human being for a little while.

  24. I loved this challenge. It gave me something to do on my commute (which involves A LOT of sitting in traffic whilst “driving.”). I memorized Elizabeth Bishop’s “Casabianca” which I’ve always loved — I said it to myself several times since. Feels awesome. Thank you!

  25. What a great challenge, I loved reading through all the poems that people chose. I didn’t see it so I didn’t do it but I plan to memorize one of these and save the rest to share with those I love on special occaisions.

    I do remember a song I sang in high school based on Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road. It has such hope and starts out:

    “Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road
    Healthy, free, the world before me,
    A long brown path before me, leadign wherever I choose.”

    I have thought of this so many times over the years. Thanks for prompting me to seek out poetry that speaks to me.

  26. This was such a wonderful challenge and while I didn’t accept it it did allow me to rediscover some poets i have long loved (Billy Collins) and discover a new one to love (Jane Kenyon). I also thank Margueax for sharing that poem with us. It has stayed with me, like “mental furniture”.

  27. Joanna, I am loving these projects! I love to read poems, but my appreciation was always regretfully from a distance. I took your challenge, and all week I had beautiful slips of poetry running through my head! The idea of mental furniture is stunning. Thanks for inspiring me to participate. :)

  28. loved this challenge! Though I wimped out a little and chose a very short poem…

    raise your words
    not voice,
    it is rain that makes flowers
    not thunder.

  29. my favorite poem is ck williams’ “even if i could.” when i first encounter the poem in college, i carried it around with me for months, memorized it, and finally sent a handwritten copy to a former boyfriend with whom i was still deeply in love. we’ve been together ever since.


    Except for the little girl
    making faces behind me, and the rainbow
    behind her, and the school and the truck,
    the only thing between you
    and infinity
    is me. Which is why you cover your ears
    when I speak and why
    you’re always oozing around the edges,
    clinging, trying
    to go by me.

    And except for my eyes and the back
    of my skull, and then my hair,
    the wall, the concrete
    and the fire-cloud, except for them
    you would see
    God. And that’s why rage howls in your arms
    like a baby and why I can’t move-
    because of the thunder and the shadows
    merging like oil and the smile gleaming
    through the petals.

    Let me tell you how sick with loneliness
    I am. What can I do while the distance
    throbs on my back like a hump,
    or say, with stars stinging me
    through the wheel? You are before me,
    behind me things rattle their deaths out
    like paper. The angels ride
    in their soft saddles:
    except for them, I would come closer
    and go

  30. I missed your challenge last week, but I just started poetry with my JH kids, so here is an ode that I think is just lovely.

    Ode to My Socks
    by Pablo Neruda

    Mara Mori brought me
    a pair of socks
    which she knitted herself
    with her sheepherder’s hands,
    two socks as soft as rabbits.
    I slipped my feet into them
    as if they were two cases
    knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin,
    Violent socks,
    my feet were two fish made of wool,
    two long sharks
    sea blue, shot through
    by one golden thread,
    two immense blackbirds,
    two cannons,
    my feet were honored in this way
    by these heavenly socks.
    They were so handsome for the first time
    my feet seemed to me unacceptable
    like two decrepit firemen,
    firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
    of those glowing socks.

    Nevertheless, I resisted the sharp temptation
    to save them somewhere as schoolboys
    keep fireflies,
    as learned men collect
    sacred texts,
    I resisted the mad impulse to put them
    in a golden cage and each day give them
    birdseed and pieces of pink melon.
    Like explorers in the jungle
    who hand over the very rare green deer
    to the spit and eat it with remorse,
    I stretched out my feet and pulled on
    the magnificent socks and then my shoes.

    The moral of my ode is this:
    beauty is twice beauty
    and what is good is doubly good
    when it is a matter of two socks
    made of wool in winter.

  31. I loved this challenge Joanna! I too memorized a spoken word poem*. I don’t know if any of you remember the Stella McCartney collection for Net-a-Porter from waaay back in 2009, but there were a series of short films produced to accompany it and one of them was titled “Poem”. It’s such a beautiful reflection of art,humanity,and spirituality. Here’s the link if any one is interested….

    *I have no idea who the poet is or the title of the poem and all my google/bing searches for answers have been fruitless so if anyone has any info I would totally appreciate it!

  32. I have two sonnets memorized…but then, I’m an English teacher ;)
    Shakespeare’s sonnet 116
    Let me not to the marriage of true minds
    Admit impediments. Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
    It is the star to every wandering bark,
    Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
    Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
    Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
    Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
    But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

    Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet 2 from Astrophil and Stella
    Not at first sight, nor with a dribbèd shot,
    Love gave the wound, which, while I breathe will bleed;
    But known worth did in mine of time proceed,
    Till by degrees it had full conquest got.
    I saw, and liked; I liked, but lovèd not;
    I loved, but straight did not what Love decreed:
    At length to Love’s decrees I forced agreed,
    Yet with repining at so partial lot.
    Now even that footstep of lost liberty
    Is gone; and now, like slave-born Muscovite,
    I call it praise to suffer tyranny;
    And now employ the remnant of my wit
    To make myself believe that all is well,
    While with a feeling skill I paint my hell.

  33. I loved this challenge! I love having a poem to memorize in my head when I’m falling asleep instead of making lists in my head of what needs to get done the next day etc.

  34. I am loving these challenges Joanna.
    Poetry is something that intrigues me- after this I promised myself I would read more.
    For the challenge I decided to learn a Spoken word poem- Love Poem by Rudy Francisco.
    I first came across a transcript and just fell in love. Then discovered it was a spoken word poem, saw a live reading and my heart just melted.

    My favourite passage is : “I would write about how I see your face in every cloud and your reflection in every window. You see I’ve written a million poems hoping that somehow maybe someway you’ll jump out of the page and be closer to me cause if you were here right now I would massage your back until your skin sings songs your lips don’t even know the words too, until your heartbeat sounds like my last name and you smile like the pacific ocean.”

  35. I learnt this because my dad loves poetry, and I love my dad :)

    Only a Dad
    by Edgar Guest

    Only a dad with a tired face,
    Coming home from the daily race,
    Bringing little of gold or fame,
    To show how well he has played the game,
    But glad in his heart that his own rejoice
    To see him come and to hear his voice.

    Only a dad with a brood of four,
    One of ten million men or more.
    Plodding along in the daily strife,
    Bearing the whips and the scorns of life,
    With never a whimper of pain or hate,
    For the sake of those who at home await.

    Only a dad, neither rich nor proud,
    Merely one of the surging crowd
    Toiling, striving from day to day,
    Facing whatever may come his way,
    Silent, whenever the harsh condemn,
    And bearing it all for the love of them.

    Only a dad but he gives his all
    To smooth the way for his children small,
    Doing, with courage stern and grim,
    The deeds that his father did for him.
    This is the line that for him I pen:
    Only a dad, but the best of men.

  36. For the one that made you smile, look up variations on a theme by kenneth Koch. I read these in high school and haven’t forgotten how funny they were to this day!

  37. I memorized Pablo Neruda’s XVII love sonnet in spanish. I recited it for my spanish class in Spanish, then English. When I have a quiet moment, or a I feel lost and alone, I begin to recite the spanish version in my head, and it gives me peace.

    In Spanish:

    No te amo como si fueras rosa de sal, topacio
    o flecha de claveles que propagan el fuego:
    te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras,
    secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma.

    Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
    dentro de sí, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
    y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
    el apretado aroma que ascendió de la tierra.

    Te amo sin saber cómo, ni cuándo, ni de dónde,
    te amo directamente sin problemas ni orgullo:
    así te amo porque no sé amar de otra manera,

    sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres,
    tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía,
    tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sueño.

    In English:

    I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
    or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
    I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
    in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

    I love you as the plant that never blooms
    but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
    thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
    risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

    I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
    I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
    so I love you because I know no other way

    than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
    so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
    so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

    Also, e.e. cummings’s “since feeling is first” has one of the most beautiful lines I have ever heard or read: “and death I think is no parenthesis.”

    since feeling is first
    who pays any attention
    to the syntax of things
    will never wholly kiss you;
    wholly to be a fool
    while Spring is in the world

    my blood approves,
    and kisses are a better fate
    than wisdom
    lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
    —the best gesture of my brain is less than
    your eyelids’ flutter which says

    we are for each other: then
    laugh, leaning back in my arms
    for life’s not a paragraph

    And death i think is no parenthesis

    Finally, this is the last stanza in “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and it has stayed with me.

    “I want to know
    if you can be alone
    with yourself
    and if you truly like
    the company you keep
    in the empty moments.”

  38. The Billy Collins about fate is hauntingly beautiful. I’m going to be thinking about it for days.

  39. Leisure, by William Henry Davies

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.
    No time to stand beneath the boughs
    And stare as long as sheep or cows.
    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
    No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance.
    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began.
    A poor life this if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

  40. I memorized “The Life That I Have,” by Leo Marks:

    The life that I have
    Is all that I have
    And the life that I have
    Is yours

    The love that I have
    Of the life that I have
    Is yours and yours and yours

    A sleep I shall have
    A rest I shall have
    Yet death will be but a pause

    For the peace of my years
    In the long green grass
    Will be yours and yours
    and yours.


    Also, I memorized “The Voice,” by Shel Silverstein:

    There is a voice inside of you
    That whispers all day long
    “I think that this is right for me,
    I know that THIS is wrong.”
    No teacher, preacher, parent, friend,
    Or wise man can decide
    What’s right for you – just listen to
    The voice that speaks inside.

    (YAY! Great challenge!) :) :) :)

  41. It’s a bit dark, but I can’t help but love Stephen Crane’s ‘In the Desert’

    In the desert
    I saw a creature, naked, bestial
    Who, squatting upon the ground,
    Held his heart in his hands,
    And ate of it.
    I said: “Is it good my friend?”
    “It is bitter – bitter,” he answered;
    “But I like it
    Because it is bitter,
    And because it is my heart.”

  42. I don’t know why but that whole post and some of these comments just made me cry. So poignant. xo

  43. I loved reading everyone’s poems in the comments! I also have The Red Wheelbarrow memorized. Love William Carlos Williams!

  44. “If” was my grandfather’s favorite poem. He passed when my brother and I were 4 and 7. We both memorized it that year and it has been close to our hearts for over 20 years now!

  45. Have loved working on “Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats. But even better, as I began memorizing it, saying it aloud at lunch, my beautiful brilliant 3 and 1/2 yr old daughter chimed in! And we have been reciting it to each other, picking up where one leaves off, repeating lines. She also changes the words and plays with the language to be silly. How fun, what a treat, what a surprise. Thanks for giving us this delicious activity to enjoy together. xo

    • I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made….
      16 odd years later and all I can remember are the first couple of lines of one of my favourite poems! Must look that one up – thanks for the reminder Ceciel. Also – lovely that your daughter joined in.

  46. my very favorite poet is Richard Brautigan. I’ve memorized a number of his poems accidentally over the years. I also have a recording of him reading a collection of poems. He had such a wonderful, strange voice.

    by Richard Brautigan

    I live in the Twentieth Century
    and you lie here beside me. You
    were unhappy when you fell asleep.
    There was nothing I could do about
    it. I felt hopeless. Your face
    is so beautiful that I cannot stop
    to describe it, and there’s nothing
    I can do to make you happy while
    you sleep.

    Another favorite:

    A BOAT
    by Richard Brautigan

    O beautiful
    was the werewolf
    in his evil forest.
    We took him
    to the carnival
    and he started
    when he saw
    the Ferris wheel.
    green and red tears
    flowed down
    his furry cheeks.
    He looked
    like a boat
    out on the dark

  47. i memorized langston hughes-suicide note

    the calm

    cool face over the river

    asked me for a kiss.

    and i memorized this years ago its his other poem april rain song

    let the rain kiss you

    let the rain beat upon your head with silver liguid drops

    let the rain sing you a lullaby

    let the rain make still pools on the sidewalk

    the rain makes running pools in the gutter

    the rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night

    and i love the rain

  48. My friend and I took your challenge and chose poems for each other. Her choice for me was ‘A Dream Within A Dream’ by Poe. I have it stuck up at my desk and each time I get put on hold, I run through it, trying to recite as much from memory as I can. I love love loved this challenge. Thanks!

  49. My favorite poem of all time is “the red wheelbarrow” by william carlos williams. It is very simple, but powerful. I love this challenge, and although didn’t memorize anything new (this one I have known for a long time), I want to try with some of the new ones suggested!

    so much depends

    a red wheel

    glazed with rain

    beside the white

  50. I memorized one of my favorites by William Carlos Williams:

    This is just to say

    I have eaten the plums
    that were in the icebox

    and which you were probably
    saving for breakfast

    Forgive me
    they were delicious
    so sweet
    and so cold

    :) I loved this challenge, I used to memorize poetry when I was in high school with a group of my close friends. It made us feel tres chic ;)

  51. We’re working on “The Blues” by Langston Hughes. Kind of a cop-out (it’s short!), but I like to imagine my kids in some someday music appreciation course, and the teacher asks, “What’s the Blues?” And they’re like, “Well . . . “

    When the shoe strings break
    On both your shoes
    And you’re in a hurry —
    That’s the blues.

    When you go to buy a candy bar
    And you’ve lost the dime you had —
    Slipped through a hole in your pocket somewhere —
    That’s the blues, too, and bad!

    Great challenge! I love, love the poem you chose, and this is a great opportunity to learn about poems and poets I never knew. xox

  52. I memorized Psalm 1. :)

    Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.

    He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers.

    The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

  53. I didn’t manage to memorize a poem, but I did buy a book of poetry (something I have been meaning to do for a long time). Maybe this week I will choose one to memorize, or at the very least add some poetry reading to my life.

  54. Really short, but SO romantic:

    I ’VE got an arrow here;
    Loving the hand that sent it,
    I the dart revere.

    Fell, they will say, in “skirmish”!
    Vanquished, my soul will know, 5
    By but a simple arrow
    Sped by an archer’s bow.

  55. Loved this. I memorized “XXX” by Housman, which I stumbled upon just before this challenge. I felt both moved by and connected to it and am so happy I have it as a piece of “mental furniture” now… I think maybe it’s a weathered, old trunk. :)

    “Shake hands, we shall never be friends, all’s over;
    I only vex you the more I try.
    All’s wrong that ever I’ve done or said,
    And nought to help it in this dull head:
    Shake hands, here’s luck, good-bye.

    But if you come to a road where danger
    Or guilt or anguish or shame’s to share,
    Be good to the lad that loves you true
    And the soul that was born to die for you,
    And whistle and I’ll be there.”

  56. I, too, enjoyed this challenge a lot. I memorized the following poem by Wislawa Szymborska.


    By Wislawa Szymborska

    I believe in the great discovery.
    I believe in the man who will make the discovery.
    I believe in the fear of the man who will make the discovery.

    I believe in his face going white,
    His queasiness, his upper lip drenched in cold sweat.

    I believe in the burning of his notes,
    burning them into ashes,
    burning them to the last scrap.

    I believe in the scattering of numbers,
    scattering them without regret.

    I believe in the man’s haste,
    in the precision of his movements,
    in his free will.

    I believe in the shattering of tablets,
    the pouring out of liquids,
    the extinguishing of rays.

    I am convinced this will end well,
    that it will not be too late,
    that it will take place without witnesses.

    I’m sure no one will find out what happened,
    not the wife, not the wall,
    not even the bird that might squeal in its song.

    I believe in the refusal to take part.
    I believe in the ruined career.
    I believe in the wasted years of work.
    I believe in the secret taken to the grave.

    These words soar for me beyond all rules
    without seeking support from actual examples.
    My faith is strong, blind, and without foundation.

    • beautiful- my dad was a scientist.

  57. Thank you for the great challenge!

    I only learned a couple of quotes from Albert Camus but in French and English:

    L’automne est un second printemps ou` chaque feuille est une fleur

    Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower

  58. I loved this challenge, too! Since having children, I have memorized many poems, and children’s books, too (which really are poems when you recite them without the pictures, right?). I tried to memorize “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me,” by Maya Angelou, but I haven’t finished it. It is a fun one to recite to the kids. I also considered “Spring Morning” by A.A. Milne, which I have read many times.

    Here’s a link to Maya Angelou reciting “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.”

  59. i just got this challenge and I also love the Wild Geese poem so I will memorize…love your challenges

  60. “this is just to say” is the only poem i have memorized (and i have studied lit in grad school, shame on me). i love it so much i crosstitched it. xxoo

  61. I teach Advanced 12th grade English and one of the departmental requirements is that students have to memorize 100 lines each semester. I assign new pieces every year and by the time I have listened to all of my students recite, I have them memorized as well. last week they had to do Macbeth’s speech on hearing of his wife’s suicide and now I have it in my head forever.

    She should have died hereafter;
    There would have been a time for such a word.
    Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
    To the last syllable of recorded time;
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
    Signifying nothing. — Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

    • That’s perfect. I must memorize that now, too! :)

  62. best.challenge.ever.

  63. GREAT challenge, Joanna!

    I Wish In the City of Your Heart by Robley Wilson
    I wish in the city of your heart
    you would let me be the street
    where you walk when you are most
    yourself. I imagine the houses:
    It has been raining, but the rain
    is done and the children kept home
    have begun opening their doors.

  64. Hi joanna
    The last chalanger was easy for me, because I don’t have a tv in home, so I tried hard on this one.
    I memorised If, and chalange my boyfrend to do it with me.
    Thank you

    Kiss from Portugal

  65. i got festive and tried to remember a poem i wrote for this time of year:

    dear reader

    here’s our plan for


    chase your demons

    become the hunter

    and less of the prey

    become a pyromaniac

    at least for this one day

    take your fears on


    on paper

    of course

    because they burn faster

    one after the other

    that way

    i’ll begin:

    a fear

    being unable to recognize myself

    in the ink scribbled across the page

    in these words

    and the barely audible voice

    i don’t always claim as my own

    (am i speaking my truth?)

    (am i in the real here and now?)

    a fear


    blaming you

    blaming circumstance

    blaming religion

    blaming anyone everyone every thing

    (am i every choice i have made?)

    (am i a space i believe in?)

    a fear

    the kind of aching loss

    where you –

    a piece at a time –

    lose you

    (can even my hurt make me happy?)

    (am i more than my pain?)

    a fear

    anything animal or insect

    that disobeys

    my shrill “shoo!”

    at first cry

    dear reader

    forget about what you

    and i know of all hallow’s eve

    the masquerade

    the fears and rotten candy

    forget the masks you live behind

    every other day of the year

    the deceit

    the perceptions

    the fears we have

    built our lives around

    set it all ablaze

    in this wild bonfire before us

    hand in hand

    body in body in rhythm

    moving to a melody of memories

    beating from our chests

    take a good long look

    at the faces in the flames

    the old spirits

    come to life

    swaying with us in this

    midnight adagio

    all saints, all souls

    los muertos

    forever intertwined

    in our heart song


    (a pause for the silence between us and them

    and to take a breath in)


    dear reader

    these words were to

    scream of the terror

    lodged in your throat

    the dead scream

    of everything

    we have left

    unwritten and unsaid

    these words were to

    be made in the image

    of dorian grey

    etched with every

    impure impulse indulged

    along the way

    these words were to

    follow close behind you

    in the shadows

    by day

    and lay beside your body

    whispering through your dreams

    by night

    these words were to be

    the heart of human darkness


    merciless and messy


    leaving your body

    bereft of soul and


    these words were meant

    to be thriller

    to be halloween

    to be mwa-ha-ha

    to be of ghosts and goblins

    and vampire queens

    to be of the gothic and the grotesque

    of blood and bones

    drenched in tears and sweat

    drawing out our very last breath

    all bound by a Hallmark seal

    these words were to be


    in more than one syllable

    they would have been…

    were they not the words

    passed on from soul to soul

    our bodies underneath our bodies

    sharing secrets

    in between these lines

    revealing ourselves to our selves


    terrifyingly immaculate

    miracles made into flesh

    the stuff of legends and strange gods

    you and i

    occupying this space

    where we belong

    where we are always growing into

    free of masks

    free of monsters

    free to be in the here and now

    where the real work

    of living goes on


    – me

  66. hi joanna,

    i’ve been a reader for quite some time now, actually from germany, but we moved to hawaii 7 weeks ago with our four year-old son matti. exciting!
    i loved the challenge and chosed a short poem by dorothy parker. i like it for it’s witty humor:


    There’s little in taking or giving,
    There’s little in water or wine;
    This living, this living, this living
    Was never a project of mine.
    Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
    The gain of the one at the top,
    For art is a form of catharsis,
    And love is a permanent flop,
    And work is the province of cattle,
    And rest’s for a clam in a shell,
    So I’m thinking of throwing the battle-
    Would you kindly direct me to hell?

    hi from honolulu,

  67. Jabberwocky by Lewis Carol,
    my 6-year old has this too, with some prompting…

    you need whimsical mind furniture too….

    Twas Brillig and the slithy toves
    and gyre and gimble in the wabe
    all mimsey were the borogroves
    and the momewrath outgrabe.

    Beware the jabberwock my son,
    the jaws that bite the claws that snatch
    Beware the jub jub bird
    and shun
    the fumrious bandersnatch

    He took his vorpal sword in hand
    long time the maxone foe he sought
    Till rested he by the tum tum tree
    and stood a while in thought

    And as in uffish thought he stood,
    the Jabberwock with eyes of flame
    came wiffling through the tugley wood
    it burbled as it came

    One two one two and through and through
    the vorpal sword went snicker snack
    he left it dead and with its head he came galumphing back

    And has thou slain the Jabberwock?
    Come to my arms my beamish boy
    of Frabulous day calou calay
    he chortled in his joy.

    twas brillig and the slithy toves
    and gyre and gimble in the wabe
    all mimsey were the borogroves
    and the momewrath outgrabe.

  68. oh, i’m so glad you like “otherwise”! jane kenyon is hands-down my favorite poet, and her husband donald hall, the former poet laureate, ain’t no slouch either. ( : if you’re ever looking for a bittersweet book to read, his book “The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon” is heartbreaking and beautiful.

    i memorized “otherwise”, and emily dickinson’s “some keep the sabbath going to church.”

    Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
    I keep it, staying at Home –
    With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
    And an Orchard, for a Dome –

    Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
    I, just wear my Wings –
    And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
    Our little Sexton – sings.

    God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
    And the sermon is never long,
    So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
    I’m going, all along.

    i always reference that poem to explain to my feelings about organized religion; it’s about time i had the entire poem, not just the concept, committed to memory!

    i loved this challenge. it was lovely to spend a quiet evening at home, after i put my daughter down, doing something other than watching TV or surfing the internet. i, too, love the “mental furniture” line. i think i may have a new hobby!

  69. In college, we had to recite a poem from memory in front of the class – but instead of memorizing it, the professor wanted us to “live with” the poem. He said while you can memorize something pretty easily, you may forget it the next day or a couple of weeks after. But if you take a couple of days to really get into it – look up the meaning of words you don’t understand (especially if it’s an old poem – lots of words have different meanings today!), understand the use of language and phrasing, and discover what the poet was trying to convey when he or she chose each word – you will never forget it. I still can recite Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 many years later!

  70. Lindsey, that WS Merwin poem is so beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Thank you!

  71. Canadian Love Song
    by Alden Nowlan

    Your body’s a small word with many meanings.
    Love. If. Yes. But. Death.
    Surely I will love you a little while,
    perhaps as long as I have breath.

    December is thirteen months long,
    July’s one afternoon; therefore,
    lovers must outwit wool,
    learn how to puncture fur.

    To my love’s bed, to keep her warm,
    I’ll carry wrapped and heated stones.
    That which is comfort to the flesh
    is sometimes torture to the bones.

    • alden nowlan is my favourite poet :) so so wonderful!

  72. I’m going to have to chime in here to say that I loved this challenge. I memorized Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats. Lauren’s professor’s words were an inspiration and I fully intend to memorize more poems.

  73. I haven’t memorized anything since college, and incredibly had never read Wild Geese before. I love it, and it was a joy to commit to memory. I love the mind furniture bit…thank you, Joanna.

  74. AM says...

    I loved this challenge as well. I’m halfway through memorizing If, and will continue on…I also love that now I have a bunch of poems to check out from your and everyone’s suggestions :).

    • Ah, I love this one!

  75. I love the concept of “mental Furniture” and I think I’ll be memorizing some more poems in the future.

    “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

  76. Ok I definitely picked a much easier poem than most to memorize. Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost. I love that I can look back through this post and the comments to find new poems to read and/or memorize. Great challenge!

  77. I’ve been meaning to learn some of Patrick Kavanagh’s poems for years – some we studied in school, others I have just always liked. So this week I learned ‘Advent’ – it’s quite long.. I still get a bit mixed up towards the end!

    Advent by Patrick Kavanagh

    We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
    Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
    But here in the Advent-darkened room
    Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
    Of penance will charm back the luxury
    Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
    The knowledge we stole but could not use.

    And the newness that was in every stale thing
    When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
    Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
    Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
    Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
    You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
    And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

    O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
    For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
    We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
    Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
    And we’ll hear it among decent men too
    Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
    Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
    Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
    God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
    The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
    Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
    We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
    Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
    And Christ comes with a January flower.

  78. I didn’t memorize any but I did print out The Love Song of Alrfred J. Prufrock and highlight lines I love and listen to it online. I didn’t do perfect but you made me think and try and grow and that’s just as important I hope!

  79. I memorized a quick passage by Nelson Mandela (well, I’ve almost got it down):

    How can we begin?
    In any moment we can learn to let go of hatred and fear. We can live in peace, love, and forgiveness. It is never too late.
    Yet to sustain love we have to develop practices that cultivate and strengthen the natural compassion within us.
    It is not enough to know that love and forgiveness are possible. We have to find ways to bring them to life.
    The truth is we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free.

  80. I am also an ee fan, Nicole! I’ve got “May I Feel Said He” down pat. :)

  81. “Separation” by W.S. Merwin

    Your absence has gone through me
    Like thread through a needle.
    Everything I do is stitched with its color.

    This poem finds its way into my mind every so often.

  82. I’m not sure I believe in the afterlife, however, in the afterlife I might believe in, we take our memories with us. That means, no books, but whatever we’ve memorized! I think memorizing is a lost art. Our culture devalues it, but I still see it as a completely relevant activity, in the in a world where everything is online.

    I have Wild Geese in my brain already. Last week I worked on “So, we’ll go no more a-roving” by Byron. I don’t normally go for the rhyme, but find it perfectly delightful in that poem.

  83. I love poetry! My favorite of all time is “i carry your heart” by ee cummings, but I love lots of Keats and Wordsworth!

  84. This was a wonderful challenge, Joanna! And how funny– I memorized a Jane Kenyon poem, too!

    The Suitor:

    We lie back to back. Curtains
    lift and fall,
    like the chest of someone sleeping.
    Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
    they show their light undersides,
    turning all at once
    like a school of fish.
    Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
    For months this feeling
    has been coming closer, stopping
    for short visits, like a timid suitor.

  85. Totally unrelated – I just looked at the love poems from your wedding and your uncle is HOT! And young, how did that happen?

    Didn’t do the challenge this week, but my favorite poets are E.E. Cummings and Michael Ondaatje (yes, the author of The English Patient). Here’s one of my faves by Ondaatje:

    Life before deisre,
    without conscience.
    Cities without rivers or bells.

    Where is the forest
    not cut down
    for profit or liturature

    whose blossoms instead
    will close the heart

    Where is the suitor
    one can talk with

    Where is there a room
    without the damn god of love?

  86. I love this so much! My senior year in high school all the seniors are required to memorize the poem “Invictus” by William E. Henley. We have a week to memorize it and we then have an Invictus day where all the teachers wear black and any of them can call you out during the day to recite the poem. It was very nerve racking at the time, but I’m grateful to have this beautiful poem memorized and still do! I thought the line, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul,” was particularly fitting as we all left high school to move forward with our lives :)

  87. what a lovely thought, collecting furniture for your head!

    i memorized “i carry your heart” by e.e. cummings. it was much harder than i thought it would be but i feel so accomplished! i am 28 weeks pregnant so i said it aloud to my little one and pictured myself doing so once she’s here.

    can’t wait to see what the next challenge is. :)

    • I memorized this same poem, I have loved it for a long time and it was even written in the back of my wedding invitations, but until now I never thought about learning it by heart, I am so happy I did!

    • This is what I memorized too! It’s so beautiful, and I’m not at the least bit annoyed to have it stuck in my head. I hope it stays there for days on end. :)

  88. You’re so awesome Joanna! I missed this challenge for this week, but I’m going to do it next week! I do know three Shakespeare sonnets by heart (which I had to memorize in HIGH SCHOOL! ie a LONG time ago).

  89. LC says...

    These of some of the most powerful, candid and unvarnished words I’ve ever read about parenthood:

    Poem: “The Clasp” by Sharon Olds, from The Unswept Room. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

    The Clasp
    She was four, he was one, it was raining, we had colds,
    we had been in the apartment two weeks straight,
    I grabbed her to keep her from shoving him over on his
    face, again, and when I had her wrist
    in my grasp I compressed it, fiercely, for a couple
    of seconds, to make an impression on her,
    to hurt her, our beloved firstborn, I even almost
    savored the stinging sensation of the squeezing, the
    expression, into her, of my anger,
    “Never, never again,” the righteous
    chant accompanying the clasp. It happened very
    fast-grab, crush, crush,
    crush, release-and at the first extra
    force, she swung her head, as if checking
    who this was, and looked at me,
    and saw me-yes, this was her mom,
    her mom was doing this. Her dark,
    deeply open eyes took me
    in, she knew me, in the shock of the moment
    she learned me. This was her mother, one of the
    two whom she most loved, the two
    who loved her most, near the source of love
    was this.

    • This is amazing.

    • Julie says...

      Breathtaking. Thank you for sharing.

  90. I loved this challenge. The poem I memorized was “Mid My Gold-Brown Curls,” by George Eliot. It was short, it was sweet, and it’s sadly the story of my follicular life.

  91. I just learned in a health psychology class that expressing gratitude is the foremost determiner of happiness! So glad you picked one concerning gratitude!

  92. I did a Rumi poem: A Moment of Happiness
    A moment of happiness,
    you and I sitting on the verandah,
    apparently two, but one in soul, you and I.
    We feel the flowing water of life here,
    you and I, with the garden’s beauty and the birds singing.
    The starts will be watching us,
    and we will show them what it is to be a thin crescent moon.
    you and I unselfed, will be together, indifferent to idle speculation,
    you and I.
    The parrots of heaven will be cracking sugar as we laugh together, you and I.
    In one form upon this earth, and in another form in a timeless sweet land.

  93. I also didn’t get all the way through but nearly, A Daylight Art by my favorite poet Seamus Heaney. I highly recommend any of his collections, this one is from The Haw Lantern. I will say, though I failed, I loved having this challenge in the back of my head all week, having to return to the poem over and over made the time feel contemplative.

  94. I tried to memorize If, but only got about half way through. It’s LONG!

    Love the poem that you picked!

  95. I meant to! In college, I loved memorizing poems. I even memorized all of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by TS Eliot. These days, thanks to my toddler, the only thing I seem to know by heart is by Dr. Suess. So does Fox in Sox count for this challenge?

  96. My aunt read this poem at a small family church service we had over the summer, I loved it. A good example of something that is deeply meaningful and appropriate, but isn’t necessarily religious! I liked to memorize poetry in high school, but I haven’t memorized one in years, unless you count all the nursery rhymes my toddler loves. An easy one “I never saw a purple cow, I never hope to see one. I can tell you anyhow, I’d rather see than be one!” I had to look up who wrote it, it is Gelett Burgess. I have memorized a few from Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “A Children’s Book of Verses” as well, that I still remember.

    • “…As two tall ships, wind-mastered, wet with light,
      Break from an estuary with their courses set,
      And waving part, and waving drop from sight.”

      That’s so beautiful! Thanks for sharing! Great start to my friday. :)