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

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star