Poems worth memorizing

Are you taking the National Poetry Month Memorization Challenge, and trying to find some satisfying, musical poems to learn? Here's a list to start you off! You'll find some classics, some contemporaries; some short, some long. We're still building this list, so check back later for more ideas!

Nice and Short

Feeling intimidated by the prospect of learning four poems in one month? Never fear! These poems are short enough for just about anyone to get by heart in two or three sittings.

"Western Wind" by Anonymous

O WESTERN wind, when wilt thou blow     
  That the small rain down can rain?     
Christ, that my love were in my arms     
  And I in my bed again!

"FIRST FIG" BY EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY

My candle burns at both ends;
   It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
   It gives a lovely light!

"Oread" by H. D.

Whirl up, sea—
whirl your pointed pines,
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us,
cover us with your pools of fir.

"THIS IS JUST TO SAY" BY WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

"I MAY, I MIGHT, I MUST" BY MARIANNE MOORE

If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.

"Doubt Thou the Stars Are Fire" from hamlet by William Shakespeare

Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.

Too easy?

Click on some of the titles below to see some terrific poems that are a bit longer.

"Fishing in the Keep of Silence" by Linda Gregg

                                     God, who thinks about
poetry all the time, breathes happily as He
repeats to Himself: there are fish in the net

"Death, Be Not Proud" by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so

"My Soul in a Skep" by Dena Rash Guzman

Voting isn’t enough for me. I won’t waive pitchforks. 
I will use torches to light fires to cook pies of apple hearts. 
I will love it. I will not walk through walls when I am a ghost. 
I will keep my soul in a skep. 

"Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

"Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

"The School Children" by Louise Gluck

The children go forward with their little satchels.
And all morning the mothers have labored
to gather the late apples, red and gold, 
like words of another language.

"Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

"To John Keats, Poet, at Spring Time" by Countee Cullen

“John Keats is dead,” they say, but I
Who hear your full insistent cry
In bud and blossom, leaf and tree,
Know John Keats still writes poetry.

"The Wound Dresser" by Atar Hadari

Where he found dresses—out on the field since Vicksburg—
 or where he finds clean tables
  to cut gowns on, who in hell knows

"Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

"When Does That Happen" by Kenzie Allen

all china bull, all quick-breathing
prey in the grass, all enlivened

battering ram.

"The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;

"America" by Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.

"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

"Wake" by Lisa Huffaker

That bright wound on the water hails the dawn
of afterwards, delineates the break
between before and what must carry on.

"Lord Randall" by Anonymous

“I ha’e been to the wild wood: mother, make my bed soon,
     For I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

"The Wind-Hover" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

                                           My heart in hiding  
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

"note, passed to superman" by Lucille Clifton

sweet jesus superman,
if i had seen you
dressed in your blue suit
i would have known you.

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" by William Shakespeare

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

"Honey and Paper" by Monika Cooper

                                            Winding out long

the honey of her head, she smooths again
the caked and crumpled page to read the signs

in her imaginary almanac.

"Preludes" by T. S. Eliot

I am moved by fancies that are curled
around these images, and cling:
the notion of some infinitely gentle,
infinitely suffering thing.

"A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London" by Dylan Thomas

And I must enter again the round
Zion of the water bead
And the synagogue of the ear of corn

"Death of a Cat" by Michael Larson

                           I don’t know how she died
if not by being crushed. Apparently
she misperceived the speed of death’s approach.

"Tears, Idle Tears" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld

"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning

While some discuss if near the other graves    
  Be room enough for this, and when a day    
  Suits best for carrying the corpse away,    
With care about the banners, scarves and staves,    
And still the man hears all, and only craves
  He may not shame such tender love and stay.

"The Waiting" by Stephen Dunn

It tried your patience, it made you hungry for a man
who was hungry. I am that man, I said,

but I said it calmly.

"The Poet" by Paul Laurence Dunbar

But ah, the world, it turned to praise
A jingle in a broken tongue.

"Because I Could Not Stop For Death" by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death – 
He kindly stopped for me –  
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –  
And Immortality.

"July 6, 1535: London" by Adam Cooper

This was not how a criminal dies,
a rebel, or a hero, or a saint,
but more how a son can be robbed
of his dear inheritance, by a litigation,
folded, creased, and stamped
on foolscap’s whisper-thin translucence.

"Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost

Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day.

"The Garden" by Andrew Marvell

What wondrous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;     
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

"Matter"  by Adam Kirsch

All these demurrals try to hide
The truth that we cannot avoid

When face-to-face with her whose flame
And sight and thought won't come again,

That matter's not an envelope
the soul can put off and take up

"Sea Rose" by H. D.

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem—
you are caught in the drift

"Sonnet" by Dan Beachy-Quick

Must I anger and must my anger pearl,
My anger pearl, must I pearl, must I polish
Madness daily