Poems for Memorization and Reading Aloud
Fall 2003
Collected by Karen Steffen Chung
Click on the flags for
readings (RealPlayer format)
in General American English
and Standard Southern British (RP) .

1. Limericks
2. Advice to a Girl   Sara Teasdale
3. The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler   Howard Nemerov
4. I felt a cleaving in my mind   Emily Dickinson
5. Hitler's First Photograph   Wislawa Szymborska

6. Bluebeard    Sonnet VI   Edna St. Vincent Millay
7. Lone Dog   Irene Rutherford Mcleod
8. In Praise Of My Bed   Meredith Holmes
9. A Grave Song   Amy Lowell
10. In Extremis   John Updike
11. Root Cellar   Theodore Roethke
12. Dream Variations   Langston Hughes
13. Snow-Flakes   Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
14. An Argument   Thomas Moore
15. Daddy Fell into the Pond   Alfred Noyes
16. Oh, Grey and Tender is the Rain   Lizette Woodworth Reese
17. The Farewell   Edward Field
18. To A Frustrated Poet   R. J. Ellmann

For Freshman English:
Poems from Reading in the Content Areas: Literature 2

1. Limericks         
The origins of the limerick:

Simple instructions on how to write a limerick:

Online collections of limericks:

There was a young lady named Rose
Who had a large wart on her nose.
    When she had it removed
    Her appearance improved,
But her glasses slipped down to her toes.

There was a young man who said "There!
I'll slip out at the end of this prayer."
    But the squeak of his shoes
    So enlivened the pews,
That he stayed where he was in despair.

In China the limerick is wrong –
A sort of upside down song.
    But this is the worst,
    The last line comes first!
So there was a young man from Hong Kong.

There is a man from Peru
Whose limericks end on line two.

There was a young man from Verdun.


2. Advice to a Girl            
Sara Teasdale   American (1884-1933)

No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed;
Lay that on your heart,
My young angry dear;
This truth, this hard and precious stone,
Lay it on your hot cheek,
Let it hide your tear.
Hold it like a crystal
When you are alone
And gaze in the depths of the icy stone.
Long, look long and you will be blessed:
No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed.


3. The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler            
Howard Nemerov   American (1920-1991)

What gives it power makes it change its mind
At each extreme, and lean its rising rain
Down low, first one and then the other way;
In which exchange humility and pride
Reverse, forgive, arise, and die again
Wherefore it holds at both ends of the day
The rainbow in its scattering grains of spray.


4. I felt a cleaving in my mind            
Emily Dickinson   American (1830-1886)

I felt a cleaving in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.

The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence ravelled out of reach
Like balls upon a floor.


5. Hitler's First Photograph                  
Entire poem at:
Wislawa Szymborska   Polish (1923- )
Hitler bio: http://www.remember.org/guide/Facts.root.hitler.html

And who's this little fellow in his itty-bitty robe?
That's tiny baby Adolf, the Hitlers' little boy!
Will he grow up to be an L.L.D.?
Or a tenor in Vienna's Opera House?
Whose teensy hand is this, whose little ear and eye and nose?
Whose tummy full of milk, we just don't know:
printer's, doctor's, merchant's, priest's?
Where will those tootsy-wootsies finally wander?
To a garden, to a school, to an office, to a bride,
Maybe to the Burgermeister's daughter?
Precious little angel, mommy's sunshine, honey bun....


6. Bluebeard   Sonnet VI         
Summaries of Bluebeard's Castle, an opera by Béla Bartók:
Edna St. Vincent Millay   American (1892-1950)


This door you might not open, and you did;
So enter now, and see for what slight thing
You are betrayedˇK. Here is no treasure hid,
No cauldron, no clear crystal mirroring
The sought-for truth, no heads of women slain
For greed like yours, no writhings of distress,
But only what you seeˇK. Look yet again –
An empty room, cobwebbed and comfortless.
Yet this alone out of my life I kept
Unto myself, lest any know me quite;
And you did so profane me when you crept
Unto the threshold of this room to-night
That I must never more behold your face.
This now is yours. I seek another place.


7. Lone Dog            
Irene Rutherford Mcleod   English (1891- 19??)

I'm a lean dog, a keen dog, a wild dog, and lone;
I'm a rough dog, a tough dog, hunting on my own;
I'm a bad dog, a mad dog, teasing silly sheep;
I love to sit and bay the moon, to keep fat souls from sleep.

I'll never be a lap dog, licking dirty feet,
A sleek dog, a meek dog, cringing for my meat,
Not for me the fireside, the well-filled plate,
But shut door, and sharp stone, and cuff and kick, and hate.

Not for me the other dogs, running by my side,
Some have run a short while, but none of them would bide.
O mine is still the lone trail, the hard trail, the best,
Wide wind, and wild stars, and hunger of the quest!


8. In Praise Of My Bed                   
http://www.writersalmanac.org/docs/03_06_16.htm (June 22, 2003)
Audio: http://www.writersalmanac.org/play/audio.php?media=/2003/06/16_wa&start=00:00:31:53.0&end=00:00:36:53.0
Meredith Holmes   American

At last I can be with you!
The grinding hours
since I left your side!
The labor of being fully human,
working my opposable thumb,
talking, and walking upright.
Now I have unclasped
unzipped, stepped out of.
Husked, soft, a be-er only,
I do nothing, but point
my bare feet into your
clean smoothness
feel your quiet strength
the whole length of my body.
I close my eyes, hear myself
moan, so grateful to be held this way


9. A Grave Song         
Amy Lowell   American (1874-1925)

I've a pocketful of emptiness for you, my Dear.
I've a heart like a loaf was baked yesteryear,
I've a mind like ashes spilt a week ago,
I've a hand like a rusty, cracked corkscrew.

Can you flourish on nothing and find it good?
Can you make petrifaction do for food?
Can you warm yourself at ashes on a stone?
Can you give my hand the cunning which has gone?

If you can, I will go and lay me down
And kiss the edge of your purple gown.
I will rise and walk with the sun on my head.
Will you walk with me, will you follow the dead?


10. In Extremis          US English 2
http://www.writersalmanac.org/docs/03_03_17.htm (March 18, 2003)
Audio: http://www.writersalmanac.org/play/audio.php?media=/2003/03/17_wa&start=00:00:05:25.0&end=00:00:10:25.0
John Updike   American (1932-)

I saw my toes the other day.
I hadn't looked at them for months.
Indeed, they might have passed away.
And yet they were my best friends once.
When I was small, I knew them well.
I counted on them up to ten
And put them in my mouth to tell
The larger from the lesser. Then
I loved them better than my ears,
My elbows, adenoids, and heart.
But with the swelling of the years
We drifted, toes and I, apart.
Now, gnarled and pale, each said, j'accuse!-
I hid them quickly in my shoes.


11. Root Cellar         
Audio: http://www.writersalmanac.org/play/audio.php?media=/2003/05/05_wa&start=00:00:05:25.0&end=00:00:10:25.0
Theodore Roethke   American (1908-1963)

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!—

Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.


12. Dream Variations         
Langston Hughes   American (1902-1967)

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me –
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening...
A tall, slim tree...
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.


13. Snow-Flakes         
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow   American (1807-1882)

Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.


14. An Argument  

Thomas Moore   Irish (1779-1852)

Audio: http://www.writersalmanac.org/play/audio.php?media=/2003/06/16_wa&start=00:00:00:09.0&end=00:00:05:09.0

I've oft been told by learned friars,
That wishing and the crime are one,
And Heaven punishes desires
As much as if the deed were done.

If wishing damns us, you and I
Are damned to all our heart's content;
Come, then, at least we may enjoy
Some pleasure for our punishment!


15. Daddy Fell into the Pond         
Alfred Noyes   English (1880-1958)

Everyone grumbled. The sky was gray.
We had nothing to do and nothing to say.
We were nearing the end of a dismal day,
And there seemed to be nothing beyond,
Daddy fell into the pond!

And everyone's face grew merry and bright,
And Timothy danced for sheer delight.
'Give me the camera, quick, oh quick!
He's crawling out of the duckweed.' Click!

Then the gardener suddenly slapped his knee,
And doubled up, shaking silently,
And the ducks all quacked as if they were daft
And it sounded as if the old drake laughed.

Oh, there wasn't a thing that didn't respond
Daddy fell into the pond!


16. Oh, gray and tender is the rain         
Lizette Woodworth Reese   American (1856-1935)

Oh, gray and tender is the rain,
That drips, drips on the pane!
A hundred things come in the door,
The scent of herbs, the thought of yore.

I see the pool out in the grass,
A bit of broken glass;
The red flags running wet and straight,
Down to the little flapping gate.

Lombardy poplars tall and three,
Across the road I see;
There is no loveliness so plain
As a tall poplar in the rain.

But oh, the hundred things and more,
That come in at the door –
The smack of mint, old joy, old pain,
Caught in the gray and tender rain.


17. The Farewell         
Edward Field   American (1924- )

They say the ice will hold
so there I go,
forced to believe them by my act of trusting people,
stepping out on it,

and naturally it gaps open
and I, forced to carry on coolly
by my act of being imperturbable,
slide erectly into the water wearing my captain's helmet,
waving to the shore with a sad smile,
"Goodbye my darlings, goodbye dear one,"
as the ice meets again over my head with a click.


18. To A Frustrated Poet         
http://www.almanac.mpr.org/docs/02_09_02.htm (September 6, 2002)
R. J. Ellmann   American
(Cf. this poem by William Carlos Williams

This is to say
I know
You wish you were in the woods,
Living the poet life,
Not here at a formica topped table
In a meeting about perceived inequalities in the benefits and allowances offered to
employees of this college,
And I too wish you were in the woods,
Because it's no fun having a frustrated poet
In the Dept. of Human Resources, believe me.
In the poems of yours that I've read, you seem ever intelligent and decent and patient in a way
Not evident to us in this office,
And so, knowing how poets can make a feast out of trouble,
Raising flowers in a bed of drunkenness, divorce, despair,
I give you this check representing two weeks' wages
And ask you to clean out your desk today
And go home
And write a poem
With a real frog in it
And plums from the refrigerator,
So sweet and so cold.

For Freshman English:
Poems from Reading in the Content Areas: Literature 2

p. 76
I Hear America Singing

Walt Whitman   American (1819-1892)
The Walt Whitman Archive

p. 77
I, Too, Sing America

Langston Hughes   American (1902-1967)

p. 78
Mending Wall
(on tape)

Audio file of "Mending Wall" and other poems:

Robert Frost   American (1874-1963)

p. 80
I loved my friend

Langston Hughes   American (1902-1967)

p. 81

Sara Teasdale   American (1884-1933)

p. 82
The Unknown Citizen

W.H. Auden   English (1907-1973)

p. 84
I'm Nobody! Who are you? (on tape)

Audio: http://town.hall.org/Archives/radio/IMS/HarperAudio/012794_harp_ITH.html
Audio: http://www.beyondbooks.com/lit71/00072022.asp
Video: http://www.favoritepoem.org/poems/dickinson/nobody.html

Emily Dickinson   American (1830-1886)

Karen Steffen Chung (US English)
Colin R. Whiteley (RP)
Nadia Yun Chung (US English, number 10)


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