I remember every year in elementary school, trying to win the poetry contest at our school. Each year when that time arrived I would look through tons of books finding just the right poem. I would study it, memorize it, come up with motions or good facial expressions to match what I was saying. I was determined every year to make it to the final performance in front of the whole school. All of the poems I chose were funny and entertaining, and I don’t think it was until later in life that I learned how powerful poetry and memorizing can really be.
An article by IB Iskov says, “Poetry draws on the senses and the senses give deep access to memories and feelings….In all ages, poetry has been regarded as important, not simply for pleasure, but as something central to each individual’s existence, something of unique value, and something which makes us feel better off for having and which we are spiritually impoverished without.”
I really like how he explains it’s importance compared to other writing: “An encyclopedia can offer information on elephants. You can discover where they live, what they eat and how they breed. This information is only for practical purposes only. You can grasp the ivory of the elephant, but not its soul. The encyclopedia will not touch on its majesty, wild grandeur, strength or power. The poem can turn the elephant from a museum specimen into the highest concrete visual image that comes alive in the mind of the reader. For the living elephant, we must turn to poetry.”
My husband once worked at a school for at risk youth. In many cases this was their last chance for an education. The administrators did an amazing job at catering to the needs of individual students. They also filled them with the courage to expect more of themselves and go for their dreams. One way they did this was to make opportunities for the kids to have enriching experiences such as attending professional concerts, seeing Broadway plays, and memorizing poetry. The principle of the school came up with a program where the kids could gain school credit by memorizing certain poems. The poetry program was called Doug’s Dead Poet’s Society.
He believed that giving these kids enriching opportunities and helping them to develop these tools would help build the person they never before believed they could become. My husband truly saw great things happen at this school, and even more great people realize their worth and potential. My favorite poem in Doug’s Dead Poet Society is IF by Rudyard Kipling which definitely inspires me.
If you can keep your head when all about youAre 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 DisasterAnd treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spokenTwisted 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 winningsAnd 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 sinewTo serve your turn long after they are gone,And so hold on when there is nothing in youExcept 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 minutesWith 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!
Find a poem worth knowing and work to memorize it with your kids!