When we sent Max off to Kindergarten all those years ago I was sick to my stomach.  It wasn’t just that my baby was starting school but I was sick with the all-consuming decision of which school we should send him to.
We had a plethora of choices.
They hung around us like ripe fruit waiting to be picked.
You see, here in the desert there are charter schools galore.  And they are great schools.  
I set up appointments at a handful of them to observe the classes, the teachers, the curriculum.  
In the end, we chose the local neighborhood school because for us it had more pros than cons.  I wanted my children to have a hundred “mothers” looking out for them as they rode their bikes to school (they still do and I love it) and I wanted to be close enough I could pop in and help as needed.  And it was (is) a great school.
But the biggest thing I lamented about closing the door on the other options was the fact that some of them required poetry memorization.  And there’s something in me that itches to have children memorize poems and recite them in public.
I don’t know why.  There’s just something romantic about that to me. 
I reassured myself that I was the mother.  I could personally have them memorize and recite to my heart’s content as they grew and blossomed in their education.
But years passed and other things like piano practicing and kicking soccer balls around took precedence over my dreamy notion that my children would be poetry-memorizers.  
And although it faded into the background of a busy life with five children, there was a thread of poetry calling to me from the recesses of the day-to-day minutia.   

When we were in Utah last year my parents invited Dave and me to tag along to their “Inklings” group one Sunday evening.  (“Inklings” is like their idea of a couples book club where they mainly talk about ideas and I love it.)

The night happened to be focused on poetry.

Each couple shared a poem that had touched them in some way and why.

Someone read one of my favorites:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, 60
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 65
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
–William Wordsworth

They talked about the beauty of the phrase “make my pathway straight” that comes up over and over in the Book of Mormon.

They completely mesmerized us with this one:

The Long Boat

When his boat snapped loose
from its mooring, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endlessly drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn’t matter
which way was home;
as if he didn’t know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

                –Stanley Kunitz

And hooked us even more when they had us listen to it here, so beautifully read by the author who was 100 years old at the reading.

As each couple explained why they chose the poem they chose, I noticed a similarity among them:  I think every single person said poetry was part of their life growing up.  Their parents read it to them.  They memorized it.  And man alive, these were smart people.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the depth of poetry in their lives did, in fact, have a hand in making them as brilliant as they were.

And with that, my gnawing for poetry memorization was back in full-force.

I came home and ordered this book lickety-split:

(It was one that one of them said their mother read to them relentlessly growing up.)
The one I ordered (used) from Amazon
was a little worn with use which made it even more beautiful to me.
I adore the illustrations.
And although it has STILL taken me a while to get it going, I have gradually started pushing the poetry memorization in our family.

I have loved giving the kids an option with our new money system to make up for lost check-marks with memorizing poetry.  We have also offered quotes for them to memorize like we did growing up (see here) which I adore…and scriptures too, but we pick which ones so that we can all memorize the same ones as a family.  That’s the goal at least.

Isn’t poetry amazing?

If anyone has any favorites to add to our memorization list please let me know.

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  1. One of the Grade 7 teachers at my school had his whole class stand up on parade a few times each year recite poems from Australian poets like AB (Banjo) Paterson's "The Man from Snowy River". Very cool! Great movie too if you havn't seen it 🙂

    p.s your girls were gorgeous reciting that

  2. My Mom was always reciting poetry to me. Such good memories. A couple I thought of off the top of my head are "The House with Nobody In It" and "Song for a Fifth Child".

  3. I've also wondered the same thing: does memorization of poetry enhance one's ability to become a genius. My mother and her brothers grew up memorizing poetry and even to this day (after a devastating stroke), she still will quote poetry when it fits the situation…I need to do this with my children…thanks for sharing!

  4. after that video, all these old ones of your kids came up and i thoroughly enjoyed watching them! it was super cute to see how much they have changed and grown up, and seeing you with kids closer to my kids ages made me feel a lot closer to you as a mother.

    as for poetry… not sure if you can get into it, but i LOVE James Whitcomb Riley poems… both my parents are from INdiana and he writes poems in the ol' hosier dialect. i memorized several as a child and still know them today 🙂

  5. Maybe its the romantic in you, but maybe you were brainwashed by all the Romanian children reciting long rhyming verses at any special occasion. Those kids know how to MEMORIZE!

  6. Shel Silverstein is always fun with kids, but I also love Robert Frost. My mom had a book called "best-loved poems of the American people that I loved and had some great ones.

  7. I taught school for three years before having my triplets and we were a school that required each child to memorize a poem every six weeks. He is one that I loved. I pull it out this time every year and share it wiht as many people as possible. I have even used it in primary. I have a "cute copy" with illustrations that a made for primary last year if you want it.

    A Good Thanksgiving
    By Morgan Douglas

    Said old Gentleman Gray, “On Thanksgiving day.
    If you want a good time, then give something away.”
    So he sent a fat turkey to Shoemaker Price,

    And the shoemaker said, “ What a big bird! How nice.”
    “With such a good dinner before me I ought,
    To give Widow Lee the small chicken I bought.”

    “This fine chicken, oh see!” said the pleased Widow Lee.
    “And the kindness that sent it, how precious to me.
    I would like to make some one as happy as I—
    I’ll give Washerwoman Biddy my big pumpkin pie.”

    “And oh sure!” Biddy said, “ ‘tis the queen of all pies!
    And to look at its yellow face gladdens my eyes.”
    “Now it’s my turn, I think; and a sweet ginger cake
    For the motherless Finigan children I’ll bake.”

    Said the Finigan children-Rose, Denny, and Hugh—
    “It smells sweet of spice, and we’ll carry a slice
    To poor little lame Jake, who has nothing that’s nice.”

    “Oh I thank you, and thank you,” said little lame Jake.
    “What a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful cake!”
    “And such a big slice! I will save all the crumbs,
    And give them to each little sparrow that comes.”

    And the sparrows they twittered, as if they would say,
    Like old Gentleman Gray, “On this Thanksgiving day.
    If you want a good time, then give something away.”

  8. Here us another dandy one.

    Bill Brown
    Given from Mission President John R. Condie

    Bill Brown made a million,
    Bill Brown, think of that!
    That boy, you remember,
    as poor as a rat.

    He hoed for the neighbors,
    Did jobs by the day.
    And Bill made a million,
    or near it they say.

    He worked for my father,
    You'll maybe recall.
    He wasn't a wonder,
    not that, not at all.

    He couldn't out-hoe me,
    Or cover more ground,
    Or hoe any faster,
    Or beat me around.

    In fact, I was better
    In one way that I know.
    One toot from the kitchen
    And home I would go.

    But Bill Brown always hoed
    To the end of the row.
    We used to get hungry
    Out there in the corn.

    You talk about music,
    What equals a horn?
    A horn yellin' dinner,
    And tomatoes and beans,
    And pork and potatoes,
    And gravy and greens.

    I ain't blamin' no one
    For quittin' on time
    To quit with the whistle,
    That ain't any crime.

    But as for the million,
    Well, this much I know.
    Bill Brown always hoed
    To the end of the row.

  9. Oh, we LOVE Robert Frost. I had several teachers that made us memories his poems and they stirred something in me in elementary. My children love Shel Silverstein. They read his books over and over. I also love maya Angelou. I memorized Shakespeare in junior high and loved learning the meanings behind his often confusing plays.

  10. I teach 4th grade and I make my students memorize poetry. not to torture them but to expand their horizons. It's amazing what happens to my students once they fully understand and embrace that specific poem.
    Personally, I love Shel Silverstein's stuff, particularly for my 4th graders.
    Oh, Just Living the Dream

  11. A Children's Garden of Verses has always been a huge favorite. I like to memorize them and tell them to my kids when they ask things like, "why do we have to go to bed when it's still light outside?"

  12. I love this post! I have started having my five and four year old children memorize poetry and I am amazed at their ability to remember really long poems. One of my favorite poets is Edgar A. Guest. Amazing stuff. I have started picking a poem to go with each of the monthly values (following your parents system) so last month when the theme was Self-Reliance and Potential we picked "You" by Guest and this month we are doing service and sharing in Joy School so our poem is "Service" by Guest. I have only had them memorize the first and last sections of each of these, but I think they could have done the whole thing! Other favorites are "It takes a heap of living in a house to make it home" and "Stick together families". Thanks for all your inspirations (and a new book to look for!).

  13. I agree wholeheartedly! I used to read poetry and I memorized my favorites. Now that I’m a mother and have kids of my own, I was inspired to write poetry for them which turned into an entire collection. Most of them are Shel Silverstein-esque, with fun rhymes and funny messages, and nearly all have an LDS theme, like the child who thinks they’re going out to eat at the Steak (Stake) Center, or a child who thinks Fast Sunday is for doing everything fast. Even the humorous poems have special messages to them, and I feel they’re a great way to teach my kids- not only do they enjoy the humor, but they like the rhymes and they get the messages I’m trying to get across. My 8-year-old kept stealing the hard copy of the manuscript so I had to make him his own!

    I’ve had several friends ask for copies of my poems and I’ve been trying to get them published. Unfortunately, most LDS publishers don’t accept poetry or they don’t accept children’s books. *Sigh* I have one more shot with one more publisher and then I’ll probably have to self-publish. Here’s a good one for this month of being thankful:

    Thank You
    Thank you for the sun that shines and thank you for the rain.
    Thank you for my sister (even though she is a pain).
    Thank you for my dinosaurs and thank you for my mom.
    Thank you for A Child’s Prayer (it is my favorite song).
    Thank you for my dog, my cat, and my pet lizard, Scout.
    Thank you that I found him before Mom knew he got out.
    Thank you for the animals, for flowers, plants and trees.
    Thank you for my eyes that close automatically when I sneeze.
    Thank you for weekend cartoons and for the color blue.
    But the thing I want to tell you most is thank you, God, for YOU!

    Anybody out there want to recommend a publisher? Anyone? LOL!

    Thanks for standing up for poetry, Shawni! Us poets sure do appreciate it. 🙂

  14. I love this post!!! I am new to your blog and just love love it… I love poems too! the only one I really know are in Spanish!! I made one for my grandma when she died and I have kept it with me… I read it time to time..

  15. I'm an American that grew up in England. I had "diction" lessons in school and memorized many poems! And like you, I now try to squeeze that into mothering…thanks for reminding me to keep going.

    If they finish the books you have, "Read Aloud Rhymes for the very Young" (Jack Prelutzky) has many that I learned as a kid & more–with irresistible illustrations!


  16. My kids have memorized a poem by Christina G. Rosetti ("The Caterpillar" is a favorite) and I really love "Wynkin, Blynkin', and Nod" by Eugine Field, which my kids haven't memorized, but I've read to them. I don't recall memorizing any poetry myself until I was in junior high, so I jumped at the chance to have my children memorize poetry while they are young. I also like teaching them children's songs that I remember learning and hearing when I was a kid. Music and poetry — sounds romantic! 🙂 🙂

  17. Love it! As a Lit major I always meant for my family to love and memorize and pour over great poetry and this was exactly what I needed to be reminded of! Thanks!

  18. I love how President Monson frequently recites little pieces of poems in his talks. I had a mission president who would do the same thing. Always makes me smile. Poetry seems to do that to people. Great reminder.

  19. We just watched "Dead Poet's Society" with our kids this past weekend (and I wrote a post about it on my blog). I loved how the movie made "poetry cool" and have printed off the poems mentioned in the movie to share with my kids over a few FHE (It's really a movie for the older ones though). I think it's great to expose them to some of the most beautiful pieces of writing out there – even if they can't memorize them – they are familiar with some of the lines and understand the meaning.

    Invictus is one of my favorites (incidentally the movie with Morgan Freeman about Nelson Mandela is fantastic and they do relate it to the poem too).

  20. I am majoring in English Literature and will hand in my BA thesis this coming week. I think part of why I chose to major in English is just what you said about poetry. I went to a private school (Waldorf) and loved it, but when the time came for my oldest to start school our choice fell upon the closest in proximity. I thought the same thing as you, that being a mother who loves poetry, I can be the one who caters for this need. However, it is not so easy with kids, and I only have three (boys mind you). I think this inspires me to be more actively engaged in helping them memorize beautiful poems and passages of prose (as well as scriptures). You are truly a great inspiration, and your family is just adorable.

  21. At their school my kids memorize a poem a week and are graded on how they deliver it aloud. Once a year there is a school wide speech contest. Shel Silverstein is banned:)…..but I reiterate what someone else said. We have never gone wrong in this family by choosing a poem by Edgar Guest. Just the right mix of meaning and humor , appropriate for kids and adults.

    I'm thinking it's the combination of learning how to memorize (an invaluable skill for surviving school), speaking aloud/ being critiqued and becoming familiar with beautiful words that may boost little brains. I've never put much thought into it before, but it makes me wish that I would have implemented poetry memorization into my classroom when I taught school.

  22. My mother is from Germany, and there each child had to recite a memorized poem in front of the family before opening their first Christmas gift from underneath the tree. We lived there for a year when I was in 6th grade, and I remember working so hard to memorize a 2 page poem I had read in school. I was pretty proud to get to recite it too. Thank you for this post. It makes me want to pick up this tradition with my boys. 🙂

  23. EDGAR A. GUEST is amazing. Shawni. you would LOVE his poetry. It is all about family, mothering (even a poem called "Weaning the Baby" that is so very tender.(IWAN!!) I havent read one that doesnt resonate with me!! (I wouldnt be surprised to see you post abt some of them, if you get the chance to read them…they are THAT moving!)

  24. My mother was an English teacher and loved poetry. She never made us memorize poetry but she recited it to us from her memory often. All my siblings have, in turn, a fondness for poetry and we use it often in talks we prepare. Some of us also like to memorize favorite passages or poems.

    A fun one for little kids is AA Milne's book Now We Are Six.

    Here is the signature poem from that.
    Now We Are Six – A.A. Milne
    When I was one I had just begun
    When I was two I was nearly new

    When I was three I was hardly me
    When I was four I was not much more

    When I was five I was just alive
    But now I am six, I'm as clever as clever;

    So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

    My mom recites that to every grandkid when they turn six.

    You can never go wrong memorizing Shakespeare.

    love poetry.

  25. I remember having to memorize poems growing up and I loved it. I still remember many to this day. There are two that stick out in my memory and I recite them to my children when the need arises. Not sure of the titles or authors but the message still sits close to my heart.

    The first is:
    "I love you, Mother, said little John;
    Then, forgetting his work, his cap went on.
    And he was off to the garden swing,
    Leaving his mother the wood to bring.

    "I love you, Mother, said rosy Nell,
    "I love you better than tongue can tell."
    Then she teased and pouted full half the day.
    Till her mother was glad when she went to play.

    I love you, Mother," said little Fan,
    "To-day I'll help you all that I can;
    How glad I am that school doesn't keep!"
    So she rocked the babe till he fell asleep.

    Then stepping softly, she took the broom,
    And swept the floor, and dusted the room.
    Busy and happy all day was she;
    Helpful and happy as a child could be.

    "I love you, Mother," again they said,
    Three little children going to bed.
    How do you think that mother guessed
    Which of them really loved her best?

    And the other:

    My mother says she doesn't care
    About the color of my hair,
    Or if my eyes are blue or brown,
    Or if my nose turns up or down.
    My mother says these things don't matter.

    My mother says she doesn't care
    If I'm dark or if I'm fair,
    If I'm thin or if I'm fat.
    She doesn't fret o'er things like that.
    My mother says these things don't matter.

    But if I cheat or tell a lie,
    Or do mean things to make folks cry,
    Or if I'm rude or impolite,
    And do not try to do what's right…
    My mother says that these things matter.

    It isn't looks that makes us great;
    It's character that seals our fate.
    It's what's within our hearts, you see,
    That makes or mars our destiny.
    And that's what really matters.

  26. I couldn't sleep so I am sitting here reading your blog.

    I love poetry too. I started writing it as an outlet as a teenager, you know, from all that fun angsty-stuff. 🙂 I continued on through college and now as a mom, but now I do it to capture those little moments, I guess kind of like you do with your camera.

    I thought I'd save them in a drawer and one day, when I died, my kids would find them and smooth out their wrinkles and cry a little as they realized how much I loved them. Then one day I surprised myself by going out on a limb and sharing one on my blog. It quickly became one of my highest viewed posts, which surprised me. I have continued to share, which is a bit hard because they are so personal, but they seem to have struck a chord with people because they are some of my highest viewed posts.

    Here is one about perspective as a mother (I crave travel, it is to show that some day I will have time to travel, but also show what I will really treasure the most): http://5for50project.blogspot.com/search?q=contrail#!/2012/05/contrail.html

    This about my dad: http://5for50project.blogspot.com/2012/06/dad.html

    One more about how being a mother has changed my whole perspective on life:

    I love Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, all the classics. Thanks for this post.

  27. I love this by Abraham Lincoln (yes, he wrote poetry too) that I had to memorize in high school. And I figure since you are the sentimental type, you would like it too. This isn't the whole poem. But it's kinda long, and this is my favorite part:

    Abraham Lincoln, "My Child-hood Home I See Again"

    My child-hood home I see again,

    And gladden with the view;

    And still as mem'ries crowd my brain,

    There's sadness in it too–

    O memory! thou mid-way world

    'Twixt Earth and Paradise;

    Where things decayed, and loved ones lost

    In dreamy shadows rise–

    And freed from all that's gross or vile,

    Seem hallowed, pure, and bright,

    Like scenes in some enchanted isle,

    All bathed in liquid light.

  28. We are a weird family that memorizes poetry! I love it! We homeschool so it is pretty easy to squeeze it in. I have 3 recommendations that might be helpful. The Harp and the Laurel Wreath by Berquist is compilation of poetry for all ages with the intention of memorizing. This is not a poetry book with gorgeous pictures, rather a source to pick a poem from. Andrew Padewa has a poetry memorization program that starts with silly fun poems and rolls along to ones that are substantial. Hi method really works! Finally, I love the first few poems in Bill Bennetts Book of Virtues, "Perseverance" and "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again". These are little jewels that are motivators for big and little people.

    Way to go Shawni and Dave!

  29. I learned this poem in 4th grade

    by Edgar A. Guest

    Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
    You've all that the greatest of men have had,
    Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes
    And a brain to use if you would be wise.
    With this equipment they all began,
    So start for the top and say, "I can."

    Look them over, the wise and great
    They take their food from a common plate,
    And similar knives and forks they use,
    With similar laces they tie their shoes.
    The world considers them brave and smart,
    But you've all they had when they made their start.

    You can triumph and come to skill,
    You can be great if you only will.
    You're well equipped for what fight you choose,
    You have legs and arms and a brain to use,
    And the man who has risen great deeds to do
    Began his life with no more than you.

    You are the handicap you must face,
    You are the one who must choose your place,
    You must say where you want to go,
    How much you will study the truth to know.
    God has equipped you for life, but He
    Lets you decide what you want to be.

    Courage must come from the soul within,
    The man must furnish the will to win.
    So figure it out for yourself, my lad.
    You were born with all that the great have had,
    With your equipment they all began,
    Get hold of yourself and say: "I can."

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