Pocket Poetry
December 5, 2019 5:49 AM   Subscribe

What poems would work well to write out and carry around to read/memorize during idle moments throughout the day?

I've seen the suggestion (probably here on ask metafilter) of carrying around poetry to memorize as an activity to replace mindless cell phone usage. So to start, I am looking for any of your favourite short, funny, sweet, or sad poems that would work well for this purpose.
posted by fourpotatoes to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I used to know most of the poems in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass which was amusing for me and occasionally useful as a party trick. Jabberwocky, You Are Old Father William, and The Walrus and the Carpenter are particular favorites. In a different mood I also memorized, stanza by stanza, the lugubrious Garden of Proserpine by Swinburne. It was not a popular performance but very comforting to realize that I didn't feel that bad.
posted by Botanizer at 6:08 AM on December 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

Palgrave is a good anthology for this, if you want conventional rhyme and meter. Also, free on Gutenberg.

Passages of Shakespeare, maybe?

All the poems in Lord of the Rings, if you fancy that?
posted by zadcat at 6:13 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

To second Botanizer -- It's absolute nonsense, but the Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll might be fun to know by heart. It has a nice rhythm and rhyme scheme, which might make it easier to memorize!

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou is also a gem. Again, it rhymes and it has powerful pacing. I always feel slightly bolder and more beautiful after reading it.
posted by NewShoo at 6:14 AM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I particularly love this poem. Short and very silly.

by Laura Elizabeth Richards

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant—
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone—
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I've got it right.)
Howe'er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee—
(I fear I'd better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)

On a sad note, here is a link to an amazing poem by Judith Viorst.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 6:20 AM on December 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

Oooh, I'm one of the people who suggested that! Here's a great one for this time of year: Longfellow's Snow-flakes. And then in a couple of months you might like to have this one in your pocket: Pugh's Sometimes.
posted by HotToddy at 6:24 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Because You Asked about the Line Between Prose and Poetry
Howard Nemerov, 1920-1991

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned to pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.
posted by kingless at 6:31 AM on December 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

I love Tomas Transtromer's poetry, and have personally memorized the Half-Finished Heaven for when I want to feel a sense of calm.

Translations vary but I like this volume: https://www.graywolfpress.org/books/half-finished-heaven-0
posted by ProtoStar at 6:49 AM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver.
posted by hilaryjade at 6:52 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think there's a lot of William Carlos Williams that would work for this.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:07 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Auden's As I Walked Out One Evening goes with a swing and is easy to memorize. A lot of Auden is this way.

Brecht's I'm Not Saying Anything Against Alexander doesn't go with a swing and doesn't rhyme, but it's a nice poem to say to yourself.
posted by Frowner at 7:18 AM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Child Ballads (so called because they were collected by someone named Child; they are full of sex and murder and definitely not for children) are great for this. They were handed down in an oral tradition for a long time, so they're catchy and memorable and also archaic and weird. Tam Lin is a popular favorite, with evil fairies and devil worship and shapeshifting and True Love. There's a squillion versions, because oral tradition. I like the one sung by Mike Waterson, but that site has a bunch of others and you can pick one you like. The Demon Lover is another one I love, and you can compare a few different versions here.

They're long, but it's easy to keep the verses straight because there's a plot stringing them together, and you can learn them a few verses at a time.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:42 AM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Cut Grass by Philip Larkin
Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W B Yeats
The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 7:58 AM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm a sucker for Yeats. The Wild Swans at Coole is one of my favorites. If you're in a scorned lover kind of mood, No Second Troy is good fun.

E.E. Cummings' somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond wins the sexiest poem award.

If you don't mind religious content, Gerard Manley Hopkins's Pied Beauty is fun.

Wendy Cope's comic poems are always a delight: here's The Orange.

Villanelles, like sonnets, are easy to memorize. You may enjoy Elizabeth Bishop's One Art or Sylvia Plath's Mad Girl's Love Song.

And finally, my personal poetry memorization life goal: Auden's September 1, 1939.

Apparently my knowledge of rhymed verse skews very white - perhaps others will have suggestions outside the white Euro-American canon?
posted by toastedcheese at 8:03 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Shakespeare sonnets?
posted by salvia at 9:40 AM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

If by Rudyard Kipling
posted by soelo at 10:24 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

2 serious and one silly:
One of my all-time favorites: A Blessing by James Wright

A sweet prayer, not promoting any particular faith: i thank you god by e.e. cummings

and the silly one: The Poem You Asked For by Larry Levis
posted by tuesdayschild at 11:02 AM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Edna St. Vincent Millay has a variety of readily recognizable shorter poems and sonnets that are enjoyable to read aloud, e.g. Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare; I, being born a woman and distressed.

A fellow English nerd recited Shakespeare's Sonnet 129 to me in bed once, and it was extremely hot. YMWV.

I really like Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems for idle browsing - the concept is that he wrote them on lunch hours idling around New York. It's a slim "pocket edition" volume.

I also get the Poetry Foundation's poem of the day emailed, which has been a good low-effort way to find some interesting poems.
posted by momus_window at 12:00 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

some good ones by Robert Frost:

Fire and Ice
Nothing Gold Can Stay
The Road Not Taken
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

And some good ones by other people:

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner - Randall Jarrell
Those Winter Sundays - Robert Hayden
Gull Skeleton - Jonathan Revere
Chester - Shel Silverstein
posted by Redstart at 1:12 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would very much like to recommend Gerard Manley Hopkins for this.

The only two poems I -- a poet! -- have successfully held in my head for years are This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin and The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats. I've been lazily trying to memorize Ozymandias all year, and can't seem to get it. (On the other hand, I'm getting old; at half the readings of younger millennials I go to, they've memorized their own poems and declaim them from the podium while staring searingly into the audience, like they're about to set us on fire with their minds.)
posted by tapir-whorf at 2:01 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I read the same question and now I am obsessed with poetry although I had no interest before last week. I found this article on NPR which has some good suggestions. I made the terrible decision to start with Kubla Khan. I expect it will take me weeks to memorize it.
posted by night_train at 2:05 PM on December 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Parts if the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is great for beginner memorisers (4 lines per rubaiyat) and easy to work into everyday life to use your new poetry skills- many make the perfect toasts to sing the praises of drink and marvel bitter sweetly at this life

Ah, fill the Cup:— what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
Unborn To-morrow, and dead Yesterday,
Why fret about them if To-day be sweet!

posted by hotcoroner at 3:16 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Emily Dickinson may be good for this.
I’m nobody, who are you?

On a very different note: The Duel, by Eugene Field.

Romantic Frippery, and long: The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyes. Yes, I memorized the whole thing when I was a teenager.

Really long, even the title, and a delightful story: The Deacon’s Masterpiece, or The Wonderful "One-hoss Shay": A Logical Story, by Oliver Wendell Holmes
posted by SLC Mom at 4:14 PM on December 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Gerard Manley Hopkins. My favorite is As Kingfishers Catch Fire. (I once tried to memorize the first half as kind of a meditative/mantra/grounding thing to focus on during a particularly stressful/anxious period in my life because the prose and imagery are so lovely). Something long and kind of insane and fun to read is Goblin Market, by Christina Rossetti.
posted by thewrongparty at 7:25 PM on December 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen - not perhaps a profound poem but it practically memorizes itself, especially the refrain. I think this was the first poem that I sort of memorized when I was little.
posted by Frowner at 6:12 AM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

My resolution this year was to read a poem a day, and The Mower by Philip Larkin has stuck with me the longest. I repeat the last three lines to myself almost daily.
posted by amelliferae at 1:34 PM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone. I will be reading all of these suggestions and writing out my favourites in a small notebook. Much appreciated!
posted by fourpotatoes at 2:56 AM on December 7, 2019

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