I recently watched a talk Coach John Wooden gave and noticed how much poetry he had memorized. I think it would be a good way to make myself more well-rounded and I was curious what you all think a man should have in his poetry repertoire. 

I have always liked Invictus but I feel like it's not quite as special anymore because more people know it from the movie.

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I think it does men good to at least find and memorize a few poems he feels express sentiments he agrees with, or articulate a reaction to a subject close to his own feelings, or is just beautiful.

A few poems I memorized through love, not effort - in no particular order:

Thanatopsis, by William Cullen Bryant

One Foot In Eden, by Edwin Muir

Ashrei Ha-Gafrur (Blessed Is The Match) By Hannah Szenes

The Hangman by Maurice Ogden (Well, almost know this one by heart - it's a bit long)

The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

I'm sure I'll think of more. 

Excellent post. Thank you.

Go back to the beginning. Start with the Iliad and Odyssey, and start working your way forward from there.

Take a look at Yeats' "The Second Coming" or Agee's "Sure on this Shining Night".

1. Kublai Khan

2. Anything by Edward Lear

If you want soemthing more meaningful, then either stop looking for meaning in the art of arranging words nicely, or just write a poem yourself. I found Stephen Fry's book on writing poetry very good, but I've never looked in any other book on it.

Good suggestion.

Remember there are a ton of great contemporary poets as well.  You don't have to only read stuff from the 19th century. 

My favorite contemporary poets:

Billy Collins

Todd Boss

Dorianne Laux

Michael Dickman

Matthew Dickman

and there are plenty more

"Spring has sprung,
the grass has gris,
I wonder where
the birdies is."

Anything by Rudyard Kipling

I do believe he could do without Danny Deever.

Hands down, my favorite poet is Robert Frost.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

A Line-Storm Song

The line-storm clouds fly tattered and swift,
The road is forlorn all day,
Where a myriad snowy quartz stones lift,
And the hoof-prints vanish away.
The roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
Expend their bloom in vain.
Come over the hills and far with me,
And be my love in the rain.

The birds have less to say for themselves
In the wood-world’s torn despair
Than now these numberless years the elves,
Although they are no less there:
All song of the woods is crushed like some
Wild, easily shattered rose.
Come, be my love in the wet woods; come,
Where the boughs rain when it blows.

There is the gale to urge behind
And bruit our singing down,
And the shallow waters aflutter with wind
From which to gather your gown.
What matter if we go clear to the west,
And come not through dry-shod?
For wilding brooch shall wet your breast
The rain-fresh goldenrod.

Oh, never this whelming east wind swells
But it seems like the sea’s return
To the ancient lands where it left the shells
Before the age of the fern;
And it seems like the time when after doubt
Our love came back amain.
Oh, come forth into the storm and rout
And be my love in the rain.

Less of a suggestion but more of an awe inspiring story about memorized poetry. This story comes from one of my undergrad professors, who studied at Vanderbilt in the fifties or sixties (the chronology of the whole thing isn't that clear to me).

In any case, the story goes that Allen Tate (a great poet in his own right, perhaps a few lines from his Ode to the Confederate Dead might be a good candidate for memorization) was once visiting some of his old friends at his alma mater. A rumor started going around that Tate would be attending the graduate student and faculty party that night. These parties were somewhat notorious due to the fact that each guest was handed a personal 750 of Jack Daniels when they walked through the door.

Sure enough, that evening Allen Tate showed up and commenced to drink from his bottle of Jack Daniels. Well, my professor, at that time a lowly grad student, had the good fortune of placing his marked bottle in the kitchen right next to Mr. Tate's bottle and as such was able to keep track of exactly how much Tate had to drink.

Many people asked Tate to "say"/recite one of his poems, but he resolutely refused. As the night wore on Tate's bottle continued to empty, until it was replaced with a second which also began to drain.

At this point, a bottle and a half of Jack Daniels down, Tate was again asked to say one of his poems. He did not refuse directly this time, instead he said, "Well folks, I think I'll do one of Tom's." At which point he proceeded to recite T.S. Elliot's The Wasteland in its entirety without missing a single word.

One of my favorites to begin with would be Dylan Thomas: 

"Do not go gentle into that good night"

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


The villanelle format helps memorize - I love more contemporary poetry, but the lack of formal structure can make it difficult.

For yolks too, it is hard to go wrong with memorizing Carroll's Jabberwoky or Walrus and the Carpenter - if for not other reason than that the ability to keep a room full of young children entertained for a few minutes will win you many parents as friends. 


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