Deciding on a simple poem to memorize depends on the individual. Some people may find a haiku to be the simplest of poems to memorize, since it is very short. However, others may be able to memorize longer poems with ease because the poem has patterns in it or because the poem speaks to them or means something to them.
In choosing a poem to memorize, look for a poem with some or all of these qualities.
- short - Select a poem that is not too long. Shorter poems, usually in the range of 10 to 20 lines, are easier to memorize.
- simple - Look for a poem that uses simple words and structure. Complicated poems can mix you up when you’re trying to recite from memory.
- rhyme - Many poems have a rhyme scheme that can be helpful to memorization. In looking for a piece to memorize, try to find something that has a rhythm.
- form - A poem with a set form, such as a sonnet or a villanelle, can be easier to memorize because the form will offer clues to what the next line might be.
While there are many choices of easy-to-memorize poems, the best options work with you to make it easy. The following famous poems use the strategies outlined above to make memorization simple.
William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” is a beautiful poem that’s easy to memorize. It has a clear sonnet form and is only 14 lines long.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Another sonnet, this time in the Petrarchan or Italian form, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” is an easy poem to memorize. The pattern helps, as does the rhyme scheme.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
This poem by John Donne is both easy to memorize and important to literature. Knowing this poem helps you understand references to it in other works, including the book For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway and the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Even though this doesn’t have a regular form or rhyme, it is short and has a simple conversational style that makes memorization easy.
No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friend’s
or of thine own were.
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
This famous poem by Emily Dickinson has a simple form and deeper meaning that make it a great choice for memorization. The repeated rhyme scheme and set meter will help you remember each line.
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
Writing as a slave during the period of the American Revolutionary War, Phyllis Wheatley offers a unique perspective as one of the first published poets of color. Her poem, “A Hymn to Evening,” is easy to remember because it has a pattern of iambic pentameter couplets.
Soon as the sun forsook the eastern main
The pealing thunder shook the heav'nly plain;
Majestic grandeur! From the zephyr's wing,
Exhales the incense of the blooming spring.
Soft purl the streams, the birds renew their notes,
And through the air their mingled music floats.
Through all the heav'ns what beauteous dies are spread!
But the west glories in the deepest red:
So may our breasts with ev'ry virtue glow,
The living temples of our God below!
Fill'd with the praise of him who gives the light,
And draws the sable curtains of the night,
Let placid slumbers sooth each weary mind,
At morn to wake more heav'nly, more refin'd;
So shall the labours of the day begin
More pure, more guarded from the snares of sin.
Night's leaden sceptre seals my drowsy eyes,
Then cease, my song, till fair Aurora rise.
“If,” by Rudyard Kipling, is an important and beautiful poem that is easy to memorize because it uses repetition. Letting the repetition and rhyme guide you, you can remember each line.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream–and not make dreams your master;
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on! ‘
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!
Written on the death of Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman's “O Captain! My Captain!” is easy to memorize because of the repetition and rhyme. It’s a powerful poem that is captivating when read aloud.
O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
There are many approaches you can take to memorizing a poem, and it is best to start with a piece that you can relate to. Once you have selected your poem, it's time to concentrate on memorization skills. Using these strategies, you can quickly memorize any poem.
- Read the poem you wish to memorize several times to yourself, focusing on the words written on the page to get a good mental picture.
- Then, read the piece out loud. Hearing the words aloud can make the lines stick in your mind more readily than text alone.
- Learn a storyline for the poem. What happens and in what order? If you get stuck, you can think about the storyline for a clue.
- Find a rhythm and use it each time you read the poem. This way, if you mess up a word or line, you should be able to tell that you have made a mistake.
- If the poem has a rhyme scheme, memorize every rhyming word.
- If the poem is longer, memorize one stanza or chunk at a time. This will make it manageable and give you stepping stones for memorizing the entire poem.
- If there are a few words that have you stalled, recite the single line eight times until the word becomes easy to remember in the whole poem.
If in doubt, you can also choose a short poem to help make memorization easier. For more great poems to memorize, take a look at some fun, short poems for kids. Even if you’re an adult, short poems are among the easiest to learn by heart.