Learning lines by heart: like having your own private iPoems library

In times of need, the pupils forced to learn poetry as part of a new Government scheme will be deeply thankful for the lesson

Share

Best news of the week, after the renaissance of Ziggy Stardust,  is the launch of Poetry by Heart, the Department for Education’s drive to encourage children to memorise poems. Pupils will compete with each other to learn “The Second Coming” or “When That I Was And A Little Tiny Boy”. School champions will declaim Keats or Browning at oikish rivals from other schools. There’ll be heats and a nail-biting final in April. It’s very Michael Gove – and I’m all for it.

Learning poetry doesn’t come easy. The first few times you try, the repetition drives you crazy. You find fault with the meaning. The first poem I had to learn was “Young Lochinvar”, about a heroic young Scot, of whom we were told: “And, save his good broadsword, he weapons had none;/ He rode all unarmed, and he rode all alone!” It proved impossible to recite it in class without breaking off to remonstrate that, if the man carried a big sword, by what logic was he All Unarmed? But I persevered, and I’m glad I did.

Having a little anthology of poems in your head won’t make you any money (though I once won a £5 bet that I couldn’t recite the whole of “Kubla Khan” by heart) and it’s of limited use in a crowded bar (though fans of Sylvia, the movie about Sylvia Plath, will recall the scene where Ted Hughes and his wacky Cambridge drinking mates recite Byron and Keats to each other from memory, terribly fast). But it means you have beautiful lines embedded for ever in your brain, that will pop out and remind you of their existence at moments when you need help.

The last 20 lines of Tennyson’s “Ulysses” (“…sitting well in order smite/ The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds/ To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths/ Of all the western stars, until I die”) slide unbidden into the mind of the ageing groover who suspects he’s past his best but might risk one more shot. Yeats’s “The Wild Swans at Coole” offers a hit of poetic cocaine (“Their hearts have not grown old;/ Passion or conquest, wander where they will,/ Attend upon them still”).

Bits of Chesterton always cheer you up (“Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,/ The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands”). Remembering Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid” in Queensway on a rainy day is a blessing. And being able to quote the climactic bit of “To His Coy Mistress” does no harm in other contexts.  

It’s like having your own private internal iPoems library, available for download any time via your memory. It’s like thinking of a favourite painting and being able to pull it out of your pocket and gaze at it. It’s about owning someone’s else’s words, but making them part of your life, your thoughts and your heart.

Where are your tattoos, Ed?

The rise of Vladimir Franz in Czech political circles is a marvellous thing, isn’t it? Here’s a man who doesn’t rely on gimmicks. You can tell his promises are more than skin-deep. Sincerity is written all over his face… Actually, I’ve no idea what possessed voters in the Czech Republic to propel this jolly  writer/composer to third place in the Presidential elections, despite his complete lack of political experience or knowledge of economics.

Apparently younger voters are sick of corruption in the party machine and like his platform of anti-corruption, pro-education reforms. But don’t you wish more politicians cut a dash like Mr Franz? A few Polynesian-warrior tattoos on the faces, arms and legs of, say, Ed Balls or Theresa May would give Commons debates the thrust and swirl they so signally lack.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Supply Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Crawley: Randstad Education can provide you wit...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Randst...

Sessional ICT Teacher - GCSE

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ICT teacher job in Humberside. ...

Year 6 Teacher - January start

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Prime Minister David Cameron speaks outside Downing Street after the result of the Scottish Referendum  

Scottish referendum results: And now for the West Lothian question – but resolving it won’t be easy

Rosie Millard
No supporters react to results in the Scottish independence referendum at The Marriott Hotel in Glasgow as ballet papers are counted through the night.  

Scottish referendum results: Thank you, thank you, thank you to the No voters – the Union is saved

Andy McSmith
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week