In the magazine this week I have a piece on learning poetry by heart. Spectator readers will remember that Michael Gove received some flak from teaching unions earlier this year when he suggested that British schoolchildren should be able to recite a poem by heart. In the piece I try to explain why this is a good idea, both as a mental discipline and a way of accessing the best thought and literature.
I was never made to learn poetry by heart at school, but I have been trying to remember what the first poetry I taught myself by heart was. I think it may have been portions of Edward Fitzgerald’s version of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Its metre and rhyme scheme, and the fact that the stanzas are short, make it ideal to memorise. Also its themes are ones that seem to me to appeal straightaway to a child or an adult.
I wondered if readers had poems which they either read and memorised or if anyone has any recommendations for what people might give their children to read and learn now? I know a lot of people have bad memories of learning ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’. But does anybody have good memories of poetry learning and tips to pass on?