Poems for Memorization
Fall 2002

with links to online versions of the poem, other works by the same poet,
biographical information on the poet, audio files of readings, and other miscellany.
Click on the US flag icon
to hear a reading of the poem in Standard American English
or the UK flag to hear it in standard Southern British English.
(Note also flag links to readings of two poems n the original Spanish and Italian, respectively.)
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(1) Limericks

The origins of the limerick:
Simple instructions on how to write a limerick:


A rocket explorer named Wright
Once travelled much faster than light.
He set out one day
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.


There once was an old man from Esser,
Whose knowledge grew lesser and lesser;
It at last grew so small,
He knew nothing at all,
And now he's a college professor.

(Note the 'accidental' 13th century limerick in Latin)

As a beauty I'm not a great star,
There are others more handsome by far,
But my face, I don't mind it,
Because I'm behind it.
'Tis the folks in the front that I jar.

(2) To a Ten-Months' Child
(there are links to other poems on this site)
Donald Justice  American (1925- )

Late arrival, no
One would think of blaming you
For hesitating so.

Who, setting his hand to knock
At a door so strange as this one,
Might not draw back?

(3) Break, Break, Break
Alfred, Lord Tennyson  English (1809-1892)

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.

(4) Love's Philosophy
Percy Bysshe Shelley  English (1792-1822)

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the Ocean,
The winds of Heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?

See the mountains kiss high Heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?

(5) The Armful           
Robert Frost  American (1874-1963)

For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns -
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.

(6) The South
Original Spanish: http://www.cpel.uba.ar/borges/buenosaires/elSur_.htm
Jorge Luis Borges  Argentinean (1899-1986)
(translated by W.S. Merwin)

To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars,
from the bench of shadow to have watched
those scattered lights
that my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations,
to have heard the note of water
in the cistern,
known the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle,
the silence of the sleeping bird,
the arch of the entrance, the damp
- these things perhaps are the poem.

(7) The Crystal Gazer              
Sara Teasdale  American (1884-1933)

I shall gather myself into my self again,
I shall take my scattered selves and make them one.
I shall fuse them into a polished crystal ball
Where I can see the moon and the flashing sun.

I shall sit like a sibyl, hour after hour intent.
Watching the future come and the present go -
And the little shifting pictures of people rushing
In tiny self-importance to and fro.

(8) My Dreams, My Works, Must Wait Till After Hell
Gwendolyn Brooks  American (1917-2000)

I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can tell when I may dine again.
No man can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.

(9) The Owl
Arthur Sze  Chinese-American (1950- )

The path was purple in the dusk.
I saw an owl, perched,
on a branch.

And when the owl stirred, a fine dust
fell from its wings. I was
silent then. And felt

the owl quaver. And at dawn, waking,
the path was green in the
May light.

(10) Sonnet XXXIX
http://www.darsie.net/library/petrarch.html (with original Italian)
Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca)  Italian (1304-1374)

I fear so much the onslaught of the eyes
In which my death and Love lodge, live and last,
That I fly as a child from flogging flies;
And since I first took flight, much time has passed.
From now on there is not a tiring, steep
Place where my will is not arrived and gone
In order to avoid who makes me weep,
And then deserts me changed into cold stone.
Therefore if to see you I have come late,
Not to be near the one who is my death,
My fault perhaps is not without excuse.
I say more: to return to what we hate,
And a heart free from fear and from abuse
Were not too slight a warrant of my faith.

(11) A Song
Laurence Binyon  English (1869-1943)

For Mercy, Courage, Kindness, Mirth,
There is no measure upon earth.
Nay, they wither, root and stem,
If an end be set to them.

Overbrim and overflow,
If your own heart you would know;
For the spirit born to bless
Lives but in its own excess.

(12) Seaman's Ditty
Gary Snyder  American (1930- )

I'm wondering where you are now
Married, or mad, or free:
Wherever you are you're likely glad,
But memory troubles me.

We could've had us children,
We could've had a home -
But you thought not, and I thought not,
And these nine years we roam.

Today I worked in the deep dark tanks,
And climbed out to watch the sea:
Gulls and salty waves pass by,
And mountains of Araby.

I've travelled the lonely oceans
And wandered the lonely towns.
I've learned a lot and lost a lot,
And proved the world was round.

Now if we'd stayed together,
There's much we'd never've known -
But dreary books and weary lands
Weigh on me like a stone.

(13) Bells of Gray Crystal
Dame Edith Sitwell  English (1887-1964)

Bells of gray crystal
Break on each bough-
The swans' breath will mist all
The cold airs now.
Like tall pagodas
Two people go,
Trail their long codas
Of talk through the snow.
Lonely are these
And lonely and I ....
The clouds, gray Chinese geese
Sleek through the sky.

(14) This Be The Verse
                      Reading by the poet
Philip Larkin  English (1922-1985)

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

(15) In Flanders Fields           
(with two audio links to readings of the poem)
John McCrae  Canadian (1878-1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

(16) Account
http://www.plagiarist.com/poetry/?aid=98 (note links)
Czeslaw Milosz Lithuanian/Polish (1911- )
translated by Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky

The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.

Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness,
Like the flight of a moth which, had it known,
Would have tended nevertheless toward the candle's flame.

Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety,
The little whisper which, though it is a warning, is ignored.

I would deal separately with satisfaction and pride,
The time when I was among their adherents
Who strut victoriously, unsuspecting.

But all of them would have one subject, desire,
If only my own - but no, not at all; alas,
I was driven because I wanted to be like others.
I was afraid of what was wild and indecent in me.

The history of my stupidity will not be written.
For one thing, it's late. And the truth is laborious.

(17) Memory of Sun
with links to other works
Anna Akhmatova (Anna Andreyevna Gorenko)
Russian (1889-1966)
with links to video clips
collection of sound files of Akhmatova reading her poems
in the original Russian; some are set to music

Memory of sun seeps from the heart.
Grass grows yellower.
Faintly if at all the early snowflakes
Hover, hover.

Water becoming ice is slowing in
The narrow channels.
Nothing at all will happen here again,
Will ever happen.

Against the sky the willow spreads a fan
The silk's torn off.
Maybe it's better I did not become
Your wife.

Memory of sun seeps from the heart.
What is it? - Dark?
Perhaps! Winter will have occupied us
In the night.

(18) The Best Thing In The World
with more works by the same poet
Elizabeth Barrett Browning  English (1806-1861)

What's the best thing in the world?
June-rose, by May-dew impearled;
Sweet south-wind, that means no rain;
Truth, not cruel to a friend;
Pleasure, not in haste to end;
Beauty, not self-decked and curled
Till its pride is over-plain;
Light, that never makes you wink;
Memory, that gives no pain;
Love, when, so, you're loved again.
What's the best thing in the world?
Something out of it, I think.


Karen Steffen Chung (US English)
Colin R. Whiteley (RP)

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