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How To Memorize A Poem

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For a while in my career I was known as the person who could perform from memory poems of any length. On two days notice for instance I was able to perform, in its entirety, Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." That performance took 45 minutes! People thought I had some sort of amazing memory. In fact the secret was this almost mechanical technique which allowed me to commit huge amounts of text to memory. If what you want to memorize is long the process can be a grind and tests your commitment to the project. But for shorter works it is amazingly quick and easy.

Step One: Read the poem to yourself (not outloud)

Step Two: Now read only the first line of the poem outloud. Take your eyes from the page and immediately, outloud, say the line again. Glance quickly to make sure you got it right. If you made a mistake, do it over. Now move on to the second line and repeat the procedure- one outloud reading followed by one outloud recitation of the line from memory. Do this for every line in the poem (in order, I guess it goes without saying).

Step Three: Once you have completed going through the poem, go back to the beginning. This time read outloud the first two lines, look away and repeat them outloud. Check briefly that you got it right. If you make a mistake do it over. Now move on to the next two lines and so forth going through the poem two lines at a time.

Steps Four thru Seven: Repeat the process three lines at a time, then 4 lines at a time, then 5 and then 6. I have found that by the 6th pass, no matter how long or short the poem, you will have the whole thing committed to memory. At some point in this process you will find that you are able to recite the whole poem without hardly a glance at the poem. I recommend doing all six passes even if you already seem to have the poem down before then.

Step Eight: Recite the whole poem, preferably just before you go to bed at night.

Step Nine (IMPORTANT): Stop thinking about the poem and just sleep on it. Your sleeping mind is very important for memory- it sort of saves to your brains harddrive what has been floating around in its RAM while it worked through the poem.

The next day you should find (perhaps with a little glance at the first line of the poem to kidkstart your memory) that you can recite the whole poem. Now recite the poem once more, to yourself with meaning! Depending on when you want to perform the poem you may want to recite it once a day or every couple of days before your performance. You have mechanically memorized the text, now is your opportunity to explore the poem and all its hidden meanings and connections without needing the text in front of you.

Note: This memory may fade over time, if you do not give it a run through every so often. I couldn't recite "Howl' straight through now if you asked me to. Give me a day or two.

Comments

scarlet rosaline on June 06, 2019:

Very helpful.It will help me memorize Annabel Lee and Aquainted With The Night by Poe and Frost.

Blas Pelegrin on May 13, 2018:

Hi everyone.

I have a question.

When Mr. Hayes says “if you made a mistake, do it over”, what does he mean?

What do you have to do…

- to take your eyes from de page and try to say the lines out loud again?

or

- both to read the lines out loud and then try to say them right again?

Thanks in advance.

Brian on September 25, 2016:

Thank you for this! I spent half an hour learning the Wild Swans at Coole, and it's still all there a day later!

I wish they taught this method in school...

Riley on August 08, 2015:

I've been memorising poems lately just for fun. I usually recite them when I'm alone or walking home. However, it was taking quite a while to remember even short poems, so I thought I'd have a look online to see what techniques I could find. I tried this method with a 40 line poem and an hour later I can recite the entire thing from start to finish. While a 30 line poem used to take me about 2-3 hours. Thank you!

Michelle on May 29, 2015:

BEST.TIP.EVER!!

THANK YOU!!

I had to learn a poem in french, memorized it in 5 minutes!

annon on January 18, 2015:

BEST TIP EVER :)

Annalise on January 15, 2015:

ive got to learn a scots poem in 3 days and this worked!

Abby on July 21, 2014:

Yay! I had to memorize a poem for English as summer homework, and I already have it down completely! I started the process only 2 days ago! It really works! USE IT!

Víctor on May 20, 2014:

I have to memorize a page-long poem for Spanish... here goes nothing!

lolololololololollol on April 22, 2014:

Im z nArwalllllllllllllllp

gggggggggggg5 on April 22, 2014:

Im going to poem she was a great time to get the best way for me to the next few days ago by the way to get the best of the most important thing to do with the help of my favorite things that are available in the morning.

poooooooooooooooooooooooooooooop on April 22, 2014:

thx btw im also GALOL

G A LO L on April 21, 2014:

T H x

jameriaa on January 28, 2014:

thanks I had a poem to memorize about figurative language in one day and I did it and this really helped me : )

MalamMagnetBiru on November 22, 2013:

You saved me. I have a festival to perform at today, and for some screwed up reason, I had to rewrite an entirely new poem & memorise it within 2 hours.

Thank you.

sarah on October 28, 2013:

We had to memorize the road not taken. I have a horrible memory so it took me 4 hours using this method.

nsdgdb on May 08, 2013:

hey thx for the technique I gotta memorize a mark slaughter poem in 20 min and this worked like a boss

Mylindaminka on May 03, 2013:

Впрочем, это еще не означает, что в XXI веке нам следует опасаться ошибок прошлого. Прежде чем попасть на прилавки косметических магазинов, современная косметика проходит множество разнообразных тестов и становится все более и более полезной (например, гипоаллергенной). Кроме того, щеки со свежим розовым румянцем - один из первых признаков хорошего здоровья. Возможно, именно поэтому мы подсознательно стремимся так выглядеть?

Arvid on March 16, 2013:

I've created a webpage that helps you using this method: http://arvidj.github.com/poemizer/

FiviogsZign on March 08, 2013:

My spouse and i helpful to receive high on life nevertheless recently We have piled up an amount of resistance.

Joe Schmo on February 05, 2013:

Great method. I was stressed out that I had to memorize 51 lines in the poem "Paul Revere's Ride" and had waited until the weekend to do it. On Monday night (I went back to school on Tuesday), I was able to memorize 30 lines in about 2 hours because of this. Thank you!

Allison on January 16, 2013:

You are actually my current favorite person. Thank you so very much for this method, I've almost got this poem down completely! :)

mary on December 19, 2012:

THIS ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EVERY ONE SHOULD TRY IT :)

Ariell on December 08, 2012:

this helped a ton. thanks. i found that i was memorizing it in the morning on the bus, and by the time i got home i lost it a little. i found a recording of it (its thanatopsis) and played it while i slept. that reinforced everything i had memorized over night. maybe this will help some of you. it really helped me. i had been memorizing it for a week and using this i got it in two days. thank you soooo much!

Craig on December 04, 2012:

with my mindlessness I'm very forgetful but wow! VERY HELPFUL THANKS

Chrestano on December 04, 2012:

Very useful!!! Helps me be spiffy

Brooke on November 26, 2012:

Oh my gosh this worked! Thank you so So SO much! I feel more confident now and now this page is bookmarked forever now!! :) Thanks a million! :D

flarb on November 19, 2012:

OOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMGGGGGGGGGGGG

Chris on November 19, 2012:

Thank you for savng my life, this methoud actually worked! Better than the others.

LOL on November 14, 2012:

This method only helps me remember key words; I can't remember the "but" "or" and "and"... and also, I have trouble connecting the verses together even though I know them separately...

Pp on November 04, 2012:

I don't undertand how it is working for all of you. I have been trying to memorize an 8-line poem for the last 45 minutes and I still can't get past the 4th line. Is there something I'm missing here?

Shashi on October 29, 2012:

I needed to memoriz a twenty five line poem and this helped me do it in under 20 minutes! Thanks so much!

Jaby on October 26, 2012:

What a nice idea!!!

Somebody on September 13, 2012:

says I love your method!!! :)

David on August 26, 2012:

Love Step 9 im really into computers so that was just awesome for me

awesome bhutan on August 05, 2012:

this method is awesome

Nobody on July 17, 2012:

I hope its work.. I'm gonna try some... wish me luck

billie on May 28, 2012:

what if its in a different language your learning at school?

Hugo on May 24, 2012:

Thanks a lot it seems that the more you read the poem, the more you will understand and know the poem by heart! :)

Austin on May 20, 2012:

Thanks A LOT!! Practically saved my LIFE!!!!!! :)

gwern on May 12, 2012:

Also worth reading: http://www18.homepage.villanova.edu/diego.fernande...

Croat on May 12, 2012:

Last night I ve put your method to test with Rade Serbedzija´s ?Kose boje maka? . Well, this method works!:)

Always wondered how someone memorizes a poem and recites it, now i know. My lady friends will suffer! ;)))

Serena on May 04, 2012:

I have to memorise different poems and texts in Chinese...i usually forget or keep stuffing up. I'll try this!

Chef on April 16, 2012:

Hey dude!! Thanks a lot...It helps so much

momica on April 11, 2012:

i love christopher camacho......

ana karen on April 11, 2012:

i love a boy and im go in to send him a pem

Muzzammil Manzoor on April 08, 2012:

J.J Haves, I am indebted to you for these very useful tips. I memorised a 34 line poem in half an hour, completely. You have done a great service to the people by posting this, and we all are very deeply greatful to you.

Enough of the flowery vocab. This article is darn awesome.

AnkiBlank on April 08, 2012:

I think this iOS app is suitable to learn by heart.

http://ankiblank.com

RachelGabriella on April 06, 2012:

i loved it! you should teach memory classes...cause this technique totally worked! i love it!

nfectionO on March 28, 2012:

Thanks man! Memorized a 28 line poem in 30 minutes.

ad on March 26, 2012:

i think this is the best i say so far

Sarah on March 16, 2012:

Im supposed to study a poem from my exams,and I hope this method works,coz its really important.wish me luck

Julia on March 15, 2012:

I have 2 memorize a 3 page poem in lik no time I hope it works

Pb N. J on March 06, 2012:

that's awesome and i'll do me best. wish me best lucks forks and spoons ^_^

Pb N. J on March 06, 2012:

that's awesome and i'll do me best. wish me best lucks forks and spoons ^_^

Kay on March 05, 2012:

Thanks so much! We have to memorize a 20 line poem, and being me, I put it off to the last minute... o_o

But thank you again, this was a wonderful way to memorize it. :3

Stephanie on March 04, 2012:

Well, This method doesn't work as well when I'm using music but it works when I don't

Stephanie on March 04, 2012:

Thank you for this method! I'm trying to memorize Te Rainstick by Seamus Heaney, but I cat seem to get the whole thing down. I'm going to use this and tell you how I did. Oh, and I'm using music. It kind of helps once you get used to the rhythm because you get the idea of what words go where. Thank you again for this!!!!!

Lucille on February 27, 2012:

whoops time is supposed to be tip. Thanks for the tip

Lucille on February 27, 2012:

Thanks for the time about sleeping on it! It really helped and made me excited that I didn't need to stay up overnight to cram it in.

Kelse c: on February 23, 2012:

Amazing Learned It In 2 Minutes ^.^

Thank You :D

Chinclatata on February 23, 2012:

i need a different way it still is NOT working

Chinclatata on February 22, 2012:

ok this doesn't work at all clearly or i wouldn't still be trying to memorize this poem

Chelsea on February 20, 2012:

This method is amazing! For one of my classes I had to recite the Inferno. All the way through. All cantos. This saved me!

p on February 15, 2012:

This beautiful method really works. It is better if you do not leave your memorization till the day before you have to recite poem at school :-). It works even for longer poems like Dover Beach or The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock; though with longer poems it is better to divide them into shorter parts as memorizing the whole piece at one go may be quite time demanding. It depends on your speed, a sonnet (14 lines) can be memorized in 10-20 minutes, longer poems of 40 lines in an hour but the time quite varies, depending on your personality, the poem, its metre, its language. It also helps when you read the poem first time quietly that you do not read mechanically but with understanding vividly imagining the pictures the words evoke. Enjoy many poems.

Cloud on February 01, 2012:

Thank's to the guy who wrote this. It works really well. Thank's again to spend your time to post this online.

Cloud on February 01, 2012:

Thank's to the who wrote this. It really helps a lot. Thank's again for taking your time to share this to us.

John on January 29, 2012:

Thank's to the guy who posted this! I almost gut flunked in English class.

mary on January 24, 2012:

working well!!!

Zoe on January 12, 2012:

Wow thank you! Im going to use this to memorise This Shore-Tom Milsom and maybe use it to learn my lines for my drama production in the summer \m/

natalie on January 05, 2012:

We have to memorize the poem "If" in my A-1 class. I want to get 105% but i have to say it tomorrow!!! Your tip has helped a LOT! It took me a weeek to remember the Poem "Road Not Taken" and "Stoping By Woods on a Snowy Eveing" Now maybe my crush will notice me!!!

Jasmineeee , on December 15, 2011:

UGH , This Was So Much Help I Love This It Really Does Help !

Hana on December 15, 2011:

I'm trying to memorize the Raven for my sixth grade English class. We were supposed to memorize a poem that was at least ten lines, and I'm really ambitious, so I chose the raven. (108 lines) I've got it all down but the last two stanzas, but I wish I had found this earlier. It really works. Thanks!

katlyn on December 07, 2011:

you guys have it easy i have to recite stanza 1&2 of the raven

bluebrat on November 30, 2011:

thank u so much this helped me a lot in school.i had to memorize a visit from st.nicholas in one day now i can be in the schools wiinter program.(: :P.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! thank u!!!!!!!!!

Jordann on November 29, 2011:

I have to memorize a 10-line poem in Spanish by the end of the week, and so far this is helping! Thank you so much!

peter on November 28, 2011:

this works great but somwwtimes u have to do the line thing twice

Gloria on November 21, 2011:

i like this method a lot! but for me it kinda of gets me used to the words but not know it kind of...but i had to memorize 56 lines of Paul Revere but it might be the way i learn because when i started typing the 4 lines and what not on my computer and saying it and then deleting it and retyping it and that helped me a little more

Nick on November 16, 2011:

awesome. works great

Jacob on November 08, 2011:

Wow this even works for a French poem (Déjuner du matin)!

Paul on October 23, 2011:

I just memorized Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein in about 40 minutes. Took me longer than other people here, it seems, but it's very handy, and will work well for me learning the lyrics to songs for while I learn the guitar.

Thanks for this, and to everyone unsure about it, stick with it, everything clicks and comes good all of a sudden and it's an amazing feeling. :)

Julia on October 20, 2011:

OMG! it totally worked. I memorized it in 20 minutes and still remembered it the next day! I've now got it memorized a month before I have to recite it. Thanks so much!

Julia on October 19, 2011:

I have to memorize a road not taken for my 8th grade english class and this looks like it might work!

Solo on October 17, 2011:

This is brilliant!

Dominic on October 10, 2011:

I have to memorize the prologue of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English and this is helping me so very much. Great method!

anupam on October 05, 2011:

man i thanx to whoever wrote this i had a matter of reputation but now i will b able to memorise . thankx for the tips champ and i am only 13

jj norts on October 03, 2011:

this stuff works so good!!!!

Abigail on September 13, 2011:

This helped me SO much! Thank you thank you thank you!!

Ezion on September 10, 2011:

thanks im 13 and had to recite the opening lines to the declaration of independence and thanks to you method i memorized the opening in 10-15 minutes

Rose on August 29, 2011:

I had to memorise a 20 line poem in just half an hour (I am only 12) and I found it incredibly hard the next I had to do it again but I had done some reaserching and found this technique the next I used it and aced it!!!

xxx Rose

p.s. It was an exercise we had to do to build up to memorising Shakespare (not all of it but a fare amount of it).

Daniel on July 11, 2011:

Hey is it possible to write the lines down instead of saying them?

GQ on July 09, 2011:

Your method is a godsend for PUA's. Thank you.

Skyler on June 05, 2011:

I have to memorize a 45 line poem. Hope this works!!!

souad on May 30, 2011:

omg it actually work i got a 97 on my three page test by robert frost

EthanNeedsHelp on May 22, 2011:

I hav to memorize a Phoenix and a turtle by shakespeare, and if this strategy works I will b back to thank u

Samantha on May 13, 2011:

Great method! :) I memorized "shall I compare thee to a summer's day" in about one hour. Now I'm going to do "The Raven," just for kicks, which will undoubtedly take a while... :)

CHYEAH GURL on May 09, 2011:

thanks! Helped me heaps! And i mean heaps... :)

Trinity on May 03, 2011:

Thanks for the tips! I have to memorize 2 Chinese poems for my Chinese class, and this is helpful. I'm only 11. I'm not good at memorizing, so I'll try this method. Thanks again! :)

PSG Ninja on May 02, 2011:

I'm a freshman in highschool and I have to have "Kubla Khan" memorized and ready for recitation by tomorrow. Ugh. Imma try your method. I hope it works. And if not, wel, thanks anyway.

Louis on April 26, 2011:

hey there,

it seems this method works but Ill try it on a 30 line poem.

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