“We speak of memorizing as getting something ‘by heart,’ which really means ‘by head.’ But getting a poem or prose passage truly ‘by heart’ implies getting it by mind and memory and understanding and delight.”
John Hollander

Select a poem from the book you're reading, or an old favorite, and begin to memorize it. While memorization may seem like a relic from your school days, the rewards of recalling a private anthology of well-loved poems are both immediate and long-lasting.

If you are new to memorization, pick a short poem with a strong rhythmic underpinning. Rhythm has long been used as a tool to aid the memory, particularly by oral storytellers before the advent of the written word. By choosing and memorizing a poem that you love, you connect yourself to this long tradition of passing along stories and customs through the power of poetic language. Make sure that you understand the sense of the poem—this will give meaning to the rote act of learning each line and transform a string of sounds into a message that you can easily absorb and transmit.

Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize (1996) is a great guide to choosing poems which lend themselves easily to memorization. Published in conjunction with the Academy of American Poets and edited by John Hollander, this anthology presents a group of classic, celebrated poems which emphasizes the pleasure of memorization and recitation.

You can also browse a list of poems to memorize, perform, or recite as part of a feature on Great Poems to Teach.


Sonnet by Alice Duer Miller
American Sonnet (35) by Wanda Coleman
Mexican American Sonnet by Iliana Rocha
The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus
At the round earths imagin'd corners by John Donne
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer by John Keats
American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [When James Baldwin & Audre Lorde each lend] by Terrance Hayes
When I Consider How My Light Is Spent by John Milton
Kabira by Rajiv Mohabir
Sonnet XLIV by George Santayana
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day, Sonnet #18 by William Shakespeare
Sonnet to Liberty by Oscar Wilde
Not marble nor the guilded monuments, Sonnet #55 by William Shakespeare
A Sonnet on Cervantes by Rubén Darío
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Composed upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth
The Pedestrian by Tommye Blount

Read more sonnets


The Spacious Firmament on high by Joseph Addison
The Tyger by William Blake
A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns
So we'll go no more a roving by Lord Byron
Ask me no more by Thomas Carew
Break of Day by John Donne
When Malindy Sings by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden
The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes
To Celia by Ben Jonson
To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace
The Mower's Song by Andrew Marvell
A Litany in Time of Plague by Thomas Nashe
To Helen by Edgar Allan Poe
Coronach by Sir Walter Scott
Blow, blow, thou winter wind by William Shakespeare
Song of Myself, XI by Walt Whitman
A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal by William Wordsworth
They flee from me by Thomas Wyatt

Read more repeating forms

Read more from the Committed to Memory Lesson Plan.