Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Learning Poetry by Heart

The other day, Giles Brandreth was talking on BBC Radio 2 about the values of learning poetry by heart. Not only does it help children to learn, it also helps stave off dementia. Quoting poems by heart is certainly a satisfying experience. The science bit of the programme explained why. It would seem that acoustic statistics are aligned with each other when you speak poetry and that's why it feels right to the brain. I suspect that song lyrics have the same effect.

As I've often said on this blog, my head is full of song lyrics. There's an entire section of my brain given over to their storage. (I know it doesn't really work like that but it's how I think of it.) There is also a section that stores my favourite poems. I once learnt a nonsense poem by Gelette Burgess and it seems to have taken up permanent residence in my memory:

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one;
but I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one.

There are many others that I learnt by heart years ago. A. A. Milne's poems I've blogged about before, including my ultimate favourite by A. A. Milne:

There once was a dormouse who lived in a bed
of delphiniums blue and geraniums red...

I have, on my book shelves, a very old poetry book by Thomas Hood that I treasured as a child. My favourite poem from that book is still:

I remember, I remember
the house where I was born,
the little window where the sun
came peeping in at morn...

Magical stuff!

I never think to learn poems these days, but according to Radio's Giles Brandreth this is precisely the time in my life when I should be learning. He talked of Dame Sybil Thorndike who memorised a poem a day right into her nineties. This, he said, was 'to keep her mind alive'. I want to keep my mind alive so I'm going to do the same. I'll start by learning a poem a week and I'll report back here next month with my list of achievements... if I remember (Sorry, for that corny and predictable quip!)

All I need to do now is to select a poem for my first week of learning. Any suggestions?


  1. Perhaps a lovely Auden refrain? and use your music as background soundtrack in the brain. Double whammy brain use.
    I am horrible at remembering poems - I don't even know my own.
    Good luck and have fun with this.

    1. Thanks, Joanne, but I’ve just looked at some Auden poems. They’re a bit long!! Need to start with small steps I think.

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  3. My Mum always remembered the poems she learnt as a small child and could still recite "Who'll help a fairy" into her 80s. I can remember things from my childhood bettr than what I did yesterday. Time for more learning by heart for me I think.

    1. That's impressive re your mother. I wonder if you can recite "Who'll help a fairy"? I don't know it myself.

  4. Hi Ros ... I do hope you remember and remind us ... it's certainly not something I'm good at - but I really need to starting doing it ... easy ones first ... and I love these you've put here ...

    Cheers Hilary


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