Weekly Challenge #2

Our family used to drive six hours to visit our cousins for the holidays, and to help pass the time, my mom and I would nerd out and memorize poems. The first one we chose was this picker-upper from Emily Dickinson. I still remember every word.

So, for the second fall challenge, let’s each memorize a favorite poem by next Thursday. How amazing to have beautiful words bouncing around your head. What do you think? Are you in?

P.S. Rudyard Kipling’s If and Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese are both beautiful…

(Photo by the wonderful Kari Herer; graphic design by Rachel for Cup of Jo)

  1. wow great i have read many articles about this topic and everytime i learn something new i dont think it will ever stop always new info , Thanks for all of your hard work! hgh

  2. This is such a brilliant idea! Thanks for reminding I have “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll memorized! (and thank you too, 7th grade lit. class!)

  3. I love this idea, I’m in!

  4. This is a beautiful idea, and the poem “If” is one that I would love to be able to recall throughout my life as a great guidepost. Thanks for thinking of this :)

  5. I think I’ll give “Yes” or “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry a try.

  6. My high school students had to memorize a poem or two every quarter to help with memory and public speaking. It worked wonders! “If” was one of those they had to memorize.

  7. What a charming idea. I’ve tried reading from a Child’s Garden of Verses to my 16 month old and she isn’t into it yet.

  8. What a wonderful idea! I am going on a long trip soon, what a wonderful way to fill the time instead of reading magazines, or something silly. To come home instead with a head full of poetry!

  9. What a wonderful idea! I am going on a long trip soon, what a wonderful way to fill the time instead of reading magazines, or something silly. To come home instead with a head full of poetry!

  10. What a great challenge! I’m going to rally some of my girlfriends to join too!

  11. I love this challenge! :) I’m in.


  12. I have a terrible memory, but this is actually on my bucket list. I’m hoping by memorizing one, I’ll be able to work at memorizing many!! Yay. Great challenge!

  13. I remember having to memorize a poem in the 8th grade for my lit class. We had to select a poem, memorize it, recite it for the class and then create something based on that poem. I chose “God’s Garden” by Robert Frost and decided to make a painting. I think my mom still has it hanging in her family room. To this day, I can still recite the poem. It’s so lovely:

  14. I think I will memorize this one by Arundhati Roy:

    To love.
    To be loved.
    To never forget your own insignificance,
    To never get used to the unspeakable violence
    and the vulgar disparity of life around you.
    To seek joy in the saddest places.
    To pursue beauty to its lair.
    To never simplify what is complicated
    or complicate what is simple.
    To respect strength, never power.
    Above all, to watch.
    To try and understand.
    To never look away.
    And never, never to forget.

  15. I adore this idea! Not sure if I will be able to swing it by next week (midterm and two weddings this weekend!) but I remember once I memorized a French poem in high school. I remember how lovely it was to so eloquently be able to recite it.

  16. I can get behind this idea! I’m shooting to memorize “Flockprinter” by Buddy Wakefield. He’s more a spoken word artist, but he is major hardcore. Go check him out sometime!

  17. I love this idea too! In high school I memorized Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 for extra credit in English class one year and I love that I still know every word. This challenge will give me something lovely to do while waiting for the train!

  18. Love this-will challenge my brain in a way that is different from my everyday. Going with Lake Isle of Innsfree, Yeats bc it reminds me of my sweet husband and memorizing poetry is romantic, isn’t it?

    • Whoops-Innisfree

  19. I can’t memorize things, my brain won’t cooperate BUT i will definitely take this challenge! As i did the first one too! Although I kind of cheated there since I have stopped watching tv for months now :)

  20. I am an elementary school teacher and we memorize poems together as a class. So far this year we have memorized ‘Treehouse’ by Shel Silverstein and an Emily Dickinson Poem. We are working on a third one right now. Every year in January we have a ‘Poetry Party’ and we invite the parents to come and listen to the kids recite poetry. It is really sweet and a great way to get them thinking about language in that way. :)

  21. Oh, I love this challenge! I memorized dozens of poems when I was a teenager, inspired by my uncle.

    Maybe for this challenge I’ll review some of the poems I memorized … “If” was one of them, lots by Longfellow, Stopping by Woods, some Shakespearean sonnets. I can’t even remember what all I had memorized, but I wrote them all in a notebook (wish I still had it). The best thing about a memorized poem is, even if you “forget” it for a while, a couple times through and you remember it again.

    Also, if you memorize some fun poems you will realize the GENIUS of poems for keeping kids entertained. That’s what my uncle did and I have so many memories of listening to him recite poems. Dr. Seuss wrote great ones, my favorite is Yertle the Turtle. And then there’s “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out,” and “Sick” (“I cannot go to school today / said little Peggy Ann McKay”)…both by Shel Silverstein. These are MUSTS! And, of course, Jabberwocky :)

  22. To Autumn by John Keats. Always wanted to know that one by heart.

  23. This is a little silly, but sometimes when I’m alone at bus stops, I quietly recite poems I memorized in acting school. It passes the time, calms my nerves, and maybe wards off anyone looking to mug me (who wants to mug a crazy person?)

  24. Thank you ~ furniture of the mind… I like that image. I am going to memorize “The Song” by William Blake so I will have something to share with my future little one. He/she is yet to be conceived, but I like preparing.

  25. I’m in. Great challenge.

  26. This is the motivation I needed. My kids and I memorized Sonnet 18 this summer (nothing cuter than a 5-year-old quoting Shakespeare), and I think we’re ready to go again. With only one week, it will have to be shorter than a sonnet; at least for this crowd. xox

  27. Something from Traveling Light by Linda Pastan maybe?

  28. I love this! I think anything by William Blake is fun.

  29. best idea ever. I and mum used to remember poems:)Definitely in !!!!

  30. I’ve always been proud to have Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 memorized, but I will totally take this challenge. Mayhaps
    make my little one memorize one with me (she’s 4)…

  31. the only poem i ever memorized (and still know it to this day) is as follows: I never saw a purple cow, I never hope to see one. But if I saw one anyhow, I’d rather see than be one.

  32. i love this idea. i am 30, and still remember every word of two poems i memorized in the 4th grade. in canada, the creamation of sam mcgee is a very popular poem memorized in school. my husband had to memorize this one. we just looked it up and it is so long, and an interesting choice for children!
    love this. what a special thing to do with your child(ren)

    • Haha! I memorized that poem when I was younger, boy is it a crazy story! Love it.

  33. wonderful idea! something to do on the bus ride in to work!

    my choice:

    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.

  34. This makes me think of I’ve Got A Rocket In My Pocket. Did anyone else ever read that?

  35. YES!

    I’m going to work on “Aimless Love” by Billy Collins.

    I dare someone to do the Jabberwocky!

  36. My heart is warm with friends I make
    and better friends I’ll not be knowing;
    Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
    No matter where it’s going .

    Edna St Vincent Millay

    This calls to me on so many different levels :)

  37. Wild Geese is my all time favorite poem! I will definitely be doing this.

  38. This is a great idea. I’ve never memorized one and it has always made me feel a bit lacking. Here’s a good one for the changing seasons.

    O hushed October morning mild,
    Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
    Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
    Should waste them all.
    The crows above the forest call;
    Tomorrow they may form and go.
    O hushed October morning mild,
    Begin the hours of this day slow,
    Make the day seem to us less brief.
    Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
    Beguile us in the way you know.
    Release one leaf at break of day;
    At noon release another leaf;
    One from our trees, one far away.
    Retard the sun with gentle mist;
    Enchant the land with amethyst.
    Slow, slow!
    For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
    Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
    Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
    For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

    -Robert Frost

  39. I once read (or possibly heard from a professor??) that memorizing a poem is the best way to enjoy poetry. Once its in your mind, committed to memory, it will resurface and take on new meanings in various circumstances. In a moment of stress/anxiety/emotion, it will bubble up and give great enlightenment to your situation.

  40. Hi Joanna! Rudyard Kipling definitely holds a place in my heart too. :) In our final year of undergrad, we attempted to memorize the obligation he wrote for The Ritual of the Calling of the Engineer (but we had little cards with it printed during the ceremony in case of memory lapse):

    I, (name), in the presence of these my betters and my equals in my Calling, bind myself upon my Honour and Cold Iron, that, to the best of my knowledge and power, I will not henceforward suffer or pass, or be privy to the passing of, Bad Workmanship or Faulty Material in aught that concerns my works before mankind as an Engineer, or in my dealings with my own Soul before my Maker.

    My Time I will not refuse; my Thought I will not grudge; my Care I will not deny toward the honor, use, stability and perfection of any works to which I may be called to set my hand.

    My fair Wages for that work I will openly take. My Reputation in my Calling I will honourably guard; but I will in no way go about to compass or wrest judgement or gratification from anyone with whom I may deal. And further, I will early and warily strive my uttermost against professional jealousy or the belittling of my working-colleagues in any field of their labour.

    For my assured failures and derelictions, I ask pardon beforehand of my betters and my equals in my Calling here assumbled; praying that in the hour of my temptations, weakness, and weariness, the memory of this my Obligation and of the company before whom it was entered into, may return to me to aid, comfort, and restrain.

    Upon Honour and Cold Iron, God helping me, by these things I purpose to abide.

    Here is more information on the ceremony he helped to develop in case you’re interested:

  41. i think i will memorize “the trouble with poetry” by billy collins.

    oh, and mary oliver is just wonderful.

  42. my dad would read us rudyard kipling’s “if” every night. being an english major caused me to accidentally memorize poems all the time — i’ll go find a new one and report back thursday. : )

  43. The one poem I have memorized is one my best friend wrote for me when we were twelve :) Here goes:

    Her heart was made of leather so it wouldn’t break
    Her skin was made of porcelain to hide the leather
    But in rainy weather
    The hidden cries
    Through those blueberry eyes

  44. Ooh, yes! I think I’ll join in on this one. I used to compete in UIL Oral Reading in elementary and junior high school. You have to read a poem for the judges. I might do the Wild Geese one.

  45. This is perfect! Finally a nudge to memorize some Pushkin :)

  46. What a wonderful idea. I had to do this in elementary school several times. Mother to Son by Langston Hughes was my favorite poem. It is both beautiful and humbling. You should read it.

  47. Love this!
    In 5th grade we memorized “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost and I still know it by heart.

  48. If a 2 year old can memorize Billy Collins “Litany”, than I can certainly memorize a poem as well. Although, 2 year olds can do a lot of things I can’t do. Like sing in public.

  49. This is a beautiful idea!! I think I will memorize a favorite poem of mine, also by Emily Dickinson, called “I never saw a Moor.”

  50. i love this challenge, i’m in :)

  51. AM says...

    I just read “If” by Kipling the other day and bookmarked it, so very ironic that you mentioned it. Maybe I’ll chose that one :)

  52. Super idea! I’ve always wanted to do this and never made the time for it. Now I have no excuse, I MUST do it!

    I first learned of memorizing poems for fun when I heard an interview with Ashley Judd on NPR. She said she memorized a new poem every week! I always thought that was such a great way to connect with poetry and to really fully ingest a poem and it’s meaning.

    Thank you for this challenge! Let’s so if I follow through!

  53. Oh! I’ve always been a little sad that reciting and memorising poetry is no longer commonplace at schools. Growing up, I was a tiny bit jealous of characters who could recite reams of poetry at a drop of a hat in books, and fascinated by just how ordinary it was until quite recently. I only know a couple of poems and a few remnants of Shakespeare off by heart, so perhaps I should get going! I also don’t have a tv (+ I have been super busy this week), so the first challenge was really easy for me haha!

    PS. The two poems are “Plum”, a children’s poem about… a plum! and Yeats’ Cloths of Heaven. Two very short poems!

  54. LC says...

    My favorite – an ode to night owls!

    Fly Not Yet

    Fly not yet-’tis just the hour
    When pleasure, like the midnight flower,
    That scorns the eye of vulgar light,
    Begins to bloom for sons of night,
    And maids who love the moon!
    ‘Twas but to bless these hours of shade
    That beauty and the moon were made;
    ‘Tis then their soft attractions glowing
    Set the tides and goblets flowing!
    O! stay-O! stay-
    Joy so seldom weaves a chain
    Like this tonight, that O! ’tis pain
    To break its links so soon.

    Thomas Moore

  55. How fun! In High School, we memorized Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town by e.e. cummings. And then we analyzed every word – which was incredibly interesting to dig into e.e’s meanings of everyday words. It’s a bit long, but it tells a story…

    anyone lived in a pretty how town
    (with up so floating many bells down)
    spring summer autumn winter
    he sang his didn’t he danced his did

    Women and men(both little and small)
    cared for anyone not at all
    they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
    sun moon stars rain

    children guessed(but only a few
    and down they forgot as up they grew
    autumn winter spring summer)
    that noone loved him more by more

    when by now and tree by leaf
    she laughed his joy she cried his grief
    bird by snow and stir by still
    anyone’s any was all to her

    someones married their everyones
    laughed their cryings and did their dance
    (sleep wake hope and then)they
    said their nevers they slept their dream

    stars rain sun moon
    (and only the snow can begin to explain
    how children are apt to forget to remember
    with up so floating many bells down)

    one day anyone died i guess
    (and noone stooped to kiss his face)
    busy folk buried them side by side
    little by little and was by was

    all by all and deep by deep
    and more by more they dream their sleep
    noone and anyone earth by april
    wish by spirit and if by yes.

    Women and men(both dong and ding)
    summer autumn winter spring
    reaped their sowing and went their came
    sun moon stars rain

  56. Thank you for this challenge! My grandpa’s 90th birthday is next month and my mom always recalls him walking around reciting “Invictus” — I think I know what I’m going to do for him for his birthday :)

  57. Great idea and utterly gorgeous photo – so moody.

  58. Great idea–I’m in, too! Now to decide on a poem…


  59. how lovely! I have a few already memorized, but that’s the English major in me :) Love NERUDA and Whitman.

  60. I’m game! I think I’ll memorize one in Spanish even! I’m a Spanish teacher, but this year I’m teaching level 1 and feel very starved for challenging vocabulary. This will be perfect!

  61. “Litany” by Billy Collins. Inspired by that adorable 3-year-old.

  62. I recently memorized Theodore Roethke’s “I Knew A Woman” because some of the images are just so beautiful! My husband also memorized the poem and it’s fun to quote lines from the poem to reference other things as a sort of inside joke.

  63. I love this idea—it’s very Jackie Kennedy Onassis. :) Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden also did this…furnishing the library of the mind, where you can pick and choose what you want to “read” inside your head whenever you have a down moment (waiting in line, going for a stroll…). Thanks for these challenges. Btw, I made it through only one day of not watching TV, but doing without it does totally stretch your sense of time! Now I remember why I used to not pay for cable when I was still living in an apartment—to force myself to go out and do things instead of staying in all the time.

  64. I kid you not, I was just thinking about doing this this morning. I’m totally in!

  65. My professor at Columbia called this kind of memorization investing in your own “mental furniture”, a phrase that I’ll never forget. He had memorized most of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and said that he loved the idea that he would always have those great words as furniture to sit his thoughts on in his head, even in old age.

    • What a lovely metaphor, Lauren! :) Most of Shakespeare’s sonnets means he had quite a bit of furniture up there!

  66. I’m loving these! I still remember a Paul Revere poem from 5th grade “1 if by land, 2 if by sea…” That’s what you get growing up in Massachusetts!

  67. Ha, that will be difficult for me. My favourite poem is The Lady of Shalott by Lord Alfred Tennyson. It’s super long!…I suppose I could always put Loreena McKennitt’s version of it on repeat on my Ipod; they say things are easier to memorize if it in a song.

  68. I memorized “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe and “Dulce Et Decorum Est” a couple years ago. So long and tragic. This is such a great idea!

  69. My favorite memorized poem is also by Dickinson.

    “Faith” is a fine invention
    For gentlemen who see—
    But microscopes are prudent
    In an emergency.

    (that’s an easy one readers might want to try!)

  70. I love this challenge. I can’t believe it, but I don’t think I have a single poem memorized! Off to hunt for one!

  71. We used to memorize Shel Silverstien’s poems! “I cannot go to school today, said little Maryann McKay. I have the measles and the mumps, a gash a rash and purple bumps!”

    • “My mouth is wet, my throat is dry. I’m going blind in my right eye!”
      Haha, that’s one of the few poems I’ve memorized too. :)

    • My tonsils are as big as rocks, I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox! Oh wait, one more that’s seventeen and don’t you think my face looks green?

  72. This challenge is wonderful! It will be a great and welcome change of pace from the science that I consume constantly. T.S. Eliot and some Pablo Neruda for times when I need some woo-ing words.

  73. Yes! I’m in. I memorized Danse Russe by William Carlos Williams awhile back and doing it has given me so much. Lovely. I’ll pick something right away. O’Hara? Morning, maybe.


  74. I memorized Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and ee cummings’ You Being In Love… for a class in college; it was one of the best things I ever did. You wouldn’t BELIEVE how boys react when I recite either over a beer–it’s like I’m from another planet (in a good way!).

    I’d love to memorize either The Walrus and the Carpenter or Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, but both are dauntingly long…

    • i memorized the love song of j. alfred prufrock back in high school for an assignment in english lit class where we had to choose a poem to orate from memory to the class… it’s always been my favorite poem, and i could have picked anything 30 seconds long, but i went for that one. clocked in at around 7 minutes. i’ve forgotten much of it (so many years past) but i think i’ll memorize it again! it really is so beautiful.

  75. I used to memorize poetry for competitions in elementary school! I still have fond memories of those- even though I don’t remember them all.

    Rumi is my favorite – he has some short ones that stick in your head and always inspire.

    My favorite line of his poems I’ve read is

    “Let the beauty we love be what we do”

    • That’s a beautiful line. Thank you for sharing that.

  76. I have a pesky memory and can memorize almost anything without really trying (trust me, this gets REALLY annoying) so I humbly accept this challenge ;)

  77. Sounds like a fun idea! I think I might memorize a passage of scripture from the Bible. Many of the old testament psalms are very poetic and moving (I think many of them were written to be songs if I’m not mistaken) now to select one! Great idea!

    • That sounds like a beautiful idea. When I was in grade school we had to memorize a new song from the book of Praise and 5-10 verses from the Bible every week. Maybe I should look back and see if I can still do them by heart :)

    • Great idea Suzanne! I’ve been wanting to learn so many of the passages in Psalms, but haven’t been dedicated enough to do it!