Book review: Poems to Learn by Heart by Ana Sampson
There’s no rhyme or reason why we shouldn’t be able to quote a few lines of uplifting verse when the mood or occasion inspires us.
After all, poetry speaks with an eloquence most of us tend to lack and can be the perfect accompaniment to weddings, anniversaries and even funerals.
Those of us who are of a certain age were required to memorise poetry at school, whether it was William Blake or William Shakespeare, and fragments linger on decades later.
But for many, learning by rote has been overtaken by the convenience of the internet and even if you are eager to embed a few memorable or personally pleasing lines into your consciousness, the perennial problem is which poem to read and learn… and will I be able to remember it?
So why not take a leaf out of Poems to Learn by Heart, Ana Sampson’s wonderful new anthology, and commit some of these beautiful and evocative poems to your inner storehouse?
Author of the anthologies I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud and Tyger Tyger Burning Bright and literary arbiter extraordinaire, Sampson has been trawling through her tomes to unearth some magical verse to stow away in your memory bank as part of your own unique mental library.
Learning poems by heart has been proved to enhance vocabulary, improve knowledge retention, increase familiarity with the literary canon and give solace during life’s darkest hours.
From Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky and Skimbleshanks, T.S.Eliot’s delightful Railway Cat, to Stevie Smith’s moving Not Waving but Drowning , Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue My Last Duchess and Wilfred Owen’s searing indictment of war, Dulce et Decorum est, these are poems to love and learn.
Discover which poems have the familiar lines Paths of glory, Theirs not to reason why, When you are old and grey and full of sleep, A handful of dust, Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day and many other famous lines of poetry which often occur in everyday speech.
Organised under themes from navigating the wicked world, faith, making merry and adventure to beasts, anger, ageing, death and love songs for cynics, there is a poem here for every mood, and some of the longer ones have been reduced to extracts to make them easier to memorise.
Sampson also offers helpful advice on learning your lines, encouraging raw recruits to look for a poem with a strong rhyme scheme and a steady rhythm, writing it out on a piece of paper, reading it out loud and letting your feet walk in time with the rhythm.
Poems to Learn by Heart, guaranteed to warm the heart and inspire romance, is the perfect book for anyone with even the vaguest interest in poetry and a wonderful opportunity to revisit those much-loved, half-remembered lines from days gone by.
(Michael O’Mara, hardback, £12.99)