To be learned by heart, 2011 edition
February 14, 2011 § 12 Comments
One of this term’s assignments will be learning a poem by heart. It’s going to work like this: by March 1st, you’ll be expected to have learned one of the following poems. I’ll ask you to recite them individually, so there’s no embarrassment, but I will also expect you to be able to say a few things about the poem afterwards. Please choose a poem not just for its length, but for the appeal it has for you – there’s no use in learning something that your mind won’t care to remember.
Note: Some poems are for limited numbers of students only, so sign up for them quickly.
Note for readers who are not my students: The poems here were selected because almost all of them are quoted in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, the play we are reading right now.
While I expect you to work out as much as you possibly can by yourselves about these poems, I will be happy to help if there’s something you really don’t understand.
- William Shakespeare, That time of year thou mayst in me behold. Very beautiful sonnet that goes with the dissolution of the monasteries and, as an added benefit, has the word “twilight” in it. Look at a modern English transcription here (but learn the original, of course)
- Thomas Hardy, Drummer Hodge. Wow.
- W.H. Auden, Musée des Beaux Arts. And because it is about an Old Master, you should have a look at the painting it is about.
- W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues, has nothing to do with the play, but ever since Four Weddings and a Funeral, this has become perhaps the most famous of his poems. By the way, I am sure it’s easy to find other poems on video.
Three two one more personmay recite this.
- Maybe you’ve had Auden’s Lullaby ruined forever now, but think twice: it contains lines as beautiful as this: “Beauty, midnight, vision dies”.
- A.E. Housman, Loveliest of Trees the Cherry Now. Respond quickly if that’s the one you want to learn, because I don’t want to hear it more than
three two timesonce. Not that it’s not beautiful, of course, but very short.
- A.E. Housman, On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble. This is a really wonderful poem. Perhaps you want to see Eagle of the Ninth afterwards?
- Stevie Smith, Not Waving But Drowning. Again, only
threetwo people can recite it, so be quick. You can hear Stevie Smith talk about the poem and recite it here.
- Wilfred Owen, Anthem for Doomed Youth. It was used by Benjamin Britten for the opening piece of his War Requiem, by the way.
- Philip Larkin, MCMXIV.
- I will throw in Larkin’s perhaps best-known poem for good measure, but you have to sign up very quickly because I only want to hear it twice: This Be The Verse.
- I really don’t understand T.S. Eliot’s Mr Eliot’s Sunday Morning Servicemyself, but perhaps someone would like to have a go. Some explanations are here, Piero’s painting here.
This year, I am adding two extra poems that I believe go well with the topic.
- Lisel Mueller, who emigrated to the US from Hamburg as a child, wrote her Curriculum Vitae.
- Another Lisel Mueller poem, the Possessive Case (scroll down a little to get to the poem), is a brief, gobbet-like, playful introduction to Western Civilization. You’d have to work out the allusions, of course, but it will be so worth it.
Finally, here’s a very short bonus poem about unrequited love, which is very very beautiful.
And of course, if there’s another poem you love, I’m open to suggestions.