Please help me choose oral recitations to memorize!
September 25, 2018 8:57 AM   Subscribe

My new hobby is memorizing recitables and I'd like help selecting poems and prose to learn. I found this AskMe, but I have some very specific criteria that aren't represented in it.

My criteria are as follows:

-Poems should rhyme
-Poems should have a poetic structure (no free-verse)
-Poems should ideally be somewhat well-known
-Poems must sound as good spoken as they read on paper (I know that's vague but hopefully you will understand what I mean. I want to recite this stuff).

Any length is fine.

-Prose should be somewhat well-known
-Prose should flow well orally. Again, I want to recite this stuff, so it should be written to be spoken or at least adapt itself well to speaking
-If you have a favourite soliloquy or monologue I'm game but I'm not going to memorize entire plays
-No more than, oh let's say a chapter from a book and it needs to be relatively self-contained
-Speeches/public addresses welcome but they must be moving.
-Ditto segments from essays/ philosophical treatises/ etc
These criteria are somewhat flexible; they're based on ease of memorisation and dramatic potential. If you know an absolutely stunning poem that recites beautifully but doesn't happen to rhyme, I'll give it a try, but I doubt if William Carlos Williams or e e cummings have a role here.

I'd also love to be pointed towards resources for this. Do actors have books of things they memorise for auditions? I would love something like that.

posted by windykites to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
rime of the ancient mariner?
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:06 AM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am in a boring seminar and was memorizing poetry for distraction. I used Ozymandias, which meets all your criteria.
posted by Smearcase at 9:17 AM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also there are entire books of monologues for actors. I'm sure they are mixed bags as far as quality and, well, checking items off your list. You could memorize the Homebody's soliloquy from Homebody/Kabul as it's really interesting but it's like forty five minutes long. For shorter stuff, there's so much I wouldn't know what to suggest.
posted by Smearcase at 9:22 AM on September 25, 2018

Dorothy Parker has some fantastic poems; they're on the short side, but they're definitely a poetic structure, and they're fairly well-known - and they're wicked fun. Some good candidates:

Love Song
Comment (I personally have this memorized, it's way short so that's not hard)
Verse For A Certain Dog
The Satin Dress
A Very Short Song
One Perfect Rose
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:25 AM on September 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

It's long, but what about The Hunting of the Snark?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:26 AM on September 25, 2018

The Lark Ascending by George Meredith is longish but super fun to say aloud. It's intended to mimic the soaring of the bird it describes. Try the first four couplets and see if you want the rest:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolved and spreading wide,
Like water-dimples down a tide
Where ripple ripple overcurls
And eddy into eddy whirls;
posted by rollick at 9:26 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Slave's Dream, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Kubla Khan by Coleridge
The World is Too Much With Us ; Wordsworth
The Ballad of the Ice Worm Cocktail by Robert Service (and all of his)
Sea Fever by John Masefield
There Will Come Soft Rains; Sara Teasdale
Any Browning or Tennyson

Look for any volume of narrative poems or ballads. Old schoolbook readers always have lots of this type, also.
posted by Enid Lareg at 9:26 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

And upon re-review of the question - yes, there are SCORES of books and websites with "monologues for actors". Usually these are excerpts from existing plays, most only a couple minutes long.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:28 AM on September 25, 2018

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

The Oxen by Thomas Hardy is one of my favorites

The Darkling Thrush, also by Hardy
posted by FencingGal at 10:18 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love this ask!

Let's Marry Said the Cherry. (pdf link). A fun poem that is the rhymiest.

I'm currently learning Jabberwocky, which isn't as rhyme-y, but just as fun.

Christina Rosetti has some wonderful poems, including Goblin Market. It's long - choose a section you like.

Yes to Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan!

Emily Dickinson is great too: Because I Could not stop for death...
posted by hydra77 at 10:26 AM on September 25, 2018

My absolute favorite for recitation is The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert W. Service.

I don't have many things memorized besides that, Jabberwocky, and the NATO phonetic alphabet, but Sam McGee still gives me chills every time I hear it.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:27 AM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Gerard Manley Hopkins (complete works here) meets all your criteria except being very well-known. His poems have an absolutely mesmerizing density of rhythm and meaning that deserves to be read aloud. Try this on for size:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
posted by theodolite at 10:31 AM on September 25, 2018

The lovely juicy Fern Hill, by Dylan Thomas
posted by runincircles at 10:41 AM on September 25, 2018

As a fellow lover of recitations, I am really enjoying this thread!

I like Shel Silverstein's longer pieces--lots of rhymes both within the lines and at the ends, fun language, and there's one for every occasion. Best-ofs: Sick, Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, Where the Sidewalk Ends.

In my high school English class, we had to memorize the prologue to the Canterbury Tales in Middle English. It is still stuck in my brain and is lots of fun, with lots of weird, ye olde fashioned words.
posted by assenav at 11:11 AM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ulysses by Tennyson (doesn't rhyme, but has meter and is super fun to say aloud, especially the last section)
This Be the Verse by Philip Larkin
A Drinking Song by Yeats
Roman Wall Blues by Auden
posted by aka burlap at 11:42 AM on September 25, 2018

Lepanto is one of my favorites to read aloud, and surprisingly inoffensive given Chesterton.
posted by blahblahblah at 11:53 AM on September 25, 2018

I learned to recite The Raven and have never been sorry. Yes, it's weird, yes, it's Poe, yes, it's somewhat sexist, but it's also incredibly fun and dramatic and even catchy at points -- I particularly like the bit in the seventh verse "Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he; / But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—"
posted by epanalepsis at 11:58 AM on September 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

Kipling is stellar for this — though you'll have to weed out the sexist and racist stuff. Pilgrim's Way is a great poem and a lovely sentiment, with none of the problematic shit. I imagine if you go digging you'll find others that work.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:00 PM on September 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

I memorized The Raven a few years ago for this time of year! It seems to fit your poetry demands. So much fun to be able to pull that out around Halloween and interpret it different ways for kids v. adults.

I've also gotten good use out of Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well" Act II Scene III, the Kings speech that begins "Tis only title thou disdain'st in her..."
posted by Tchad at 12:10 PM on September 25, 2018

Oooo! Also Juvenal's Satires, the translation by Rolfe Humphries is good and snappy, and hilarious if sometimes problematic depending on who you are.

Also, any of Saki's (H.H. Munro) short stories would be great for this - full of hilarious early 20th century class anxiety and goofiness that translates well to today. I've got "The occasional Garden" memorized and pull it up for all kinds of pop culture cross-generational comparisons.
posted by Tchad at 12:15 PM on September 25, 2018

Ode to Spot
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:28 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

If by Rudyard Kipling
posted by soelo at 12:35 PM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Longfellow’s Snow-flakes
posted by HotToddy at 2:31 PM on September 25, 2018

Shakespeare's sonnets.

T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
posted by jj's.mama at 4:52 PM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I love Shakespeare's monologues - especially at the start of Richard III and also Edmund's monologue in King Lear.

Also the Bard's sonnet 129, which was memorably recited to me in bed.

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a lot of sonnets,What lips my lips have kissed and I, Being born a Woman and Distressed are pretty well-known, Well I Have Lost You is a personal favorite.
posted by momus_window at 5:03 PM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's on my bucket list to memorize "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General" before I die. I think it would be fun to know and it'd provide a great running or walking cadence.
posted by kinsey at 5:34 PM on September 25, 2018

Thirding The Raven! When I was a kid I had a book called Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize and it turns out you can see all of the poems in it here. You might also want to look at The Rattle Bag, a poetry anthology that's great for reading aloud.

Some specific recommendations:
My Last Duchess by Robert Browning
To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell
As I Walked Out One Evening by W.H. Auden
Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
The Oxen by Thomas Hardy
The Lady of Shallot by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Besides the poems above, I'd look at anything by A.E. Housman or Robert Frost. And on a different note, Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes is lots of fun.
posted by earth by april at 6:01 PM on September 25, 2018

Invictus by William Ernest Henley
The Waking by Theodore Roethke
Young Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 6:06 PM on September 25, 2018

Seconding Shakespeare's sonnets. Personal favorite Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
posted by she's not there at 7:28 PM on September 25, 2018

Nthing Shakespeare's sonnets.

Another famous W. H. Auden one sometimes goes by the name "Funeral Blues". It was used to great effect in the movie Four Weddings And a Funeral.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:17 PM on September 25, 2018

Some of Ogden Nash's longer poems would be hilarious to memorize. (The shorter ones you don't even need to memorize, you'll just remember them when you read them...)
posted by huimangm at 8:45 PM on September 25, 2018

Perfection of Wisdom Sutra! Famous teaching given by Buddha.
Various translations below:
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:39 PM on September 25, 2018

Annabel Lee by Poe.

Vagabond's House by Don Blanding
posted by Altomentis at 11:20 PM on September 25, 2018

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Also - Poetry Speaks has poems read by their authors, and might give you some ideas of what poems you like to hear aloud.

Poem A Day sends you a poem a day.
posted by MrsBell at 6:59 AM on September 26, 2018

Another vote for "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "My Last duchess".

I also like:

Love by Philip Larkin.
Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold
Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
Chivalry by Alice Duer Miller
posted by sohalt at 7:29 AM on September 26, 2018

Shakespeare's rendition of Henry the Fifth's St. Crispin's Day Speech makes for a memorable oration. Here is Kenneth Branagh performing it.
posted by dws at 2:34 PM on September 26, 2018

I love The Road Not Taken, Ozymandias, The New Colossus, Charge of the Light Brigade, O Captain! My Captain!, and Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

And anything by Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost, and Henry David Thoreau.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 2:36 PM on September 26, 2018

James Joyce's short stories in Dubliners, particularly The Dead, are eminently quotable.

I also second Shakespeare's sonnets... the 12+2 line structure is a nice not-too-big not-too-small length when you are memorising.

I also second Gerard Manley Hopkins... He invented sprung rhythm, which makes his poetry livelier and more like conversation than iambic pentameter. I like his Spring and Fall
"By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why."

posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:00 PM on September 26, 2018

These are such wonderful suggestions! I'm calling this "resolved", but am always open to more suggestions. Thanks guys!
posted by windykites at 6:57 PM on October 3, 2018

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