Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Poems I Know By Heart

In Sunday's NYTimes Book Review Jim Holt writes about his endeavors in memorizing poetry, which led me to think about the poems I know by heart.

Two are fairly standard: William Carlos Williams's "This Is Just to Say" and Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening."**

Then there are Robert Herrick's poems. Have you read Robert Herrick? Probably not, or if you have it's his carpe diem classic "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" which you know as "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may..." It's ok, but honestly, doesn't do much for me--what I really love is his, um, more, um, randy stuff. The stuff to Julia (and her legs, and breasts, and clothes--especially love the ones about clothes!). The stuff to Sylvia and Anthea and Electra...ah, Electra.

So, here it is, the poem I know by heart (I think I might be revealing a bit too much about myself with this one, but hey, what else are blogs written for anonymous readers for?):

"The Vision to Electra" by Robert Herrick
I dreamed we both were in a bed
Of roses, almost smothered.
The warmth and sweetness had me there
Made lovingly familiar;
But that I heard thy sweet breath say,
Faults done by night will blush by day;
I kissed thee, panting, and I call
Night to the record! that was all.
But, ah! if empty dreams so please,
Love, give me more such nights as these.

Alrighty then! And if you liked that, check out "The Vine." It makes me giggle and blush in equal measure (which is what I love about Herrick--a fine combination of the erotic and the ridiculous). Herrick never married and claimed he was chaste, but I always have this image of him chasing his maid Prue around the butcher block a time or two.

What poems do you know by heart? Who are your favorite poets? I'd love to hear.

** As I was just talking about Matthew MacFadyen (if you are not watching Little Dorrit, do it now! You can watch online!), and could talk about him a bit more, here's his reading of "This is just to say":


Marie said...

I used to know Wordsworth's daffodil poem by heart- "I wandered lonely as a cloud/that floats on high o'er vales and hills/ when all at once I saw a crowd/ a host of golden daffodils/ beside the lake, beneath the trees/fluttering and dancing in the breeze". I used to know the whole thing, and lots more besides. Now i would have to really think about it.

Pam said...

I'd never heard of Herrick, but I really like him - I'll have to check out more. Thanks for the suggestion!

My favorites, which dance around inside my head, are "No Second Troy" by William Butler Yeats, "The Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll (thanks to that great bit from the Muppet Show), Catullus 85 ("Odi et amo," in both Latin and English), and "You Shall Be My Roots" from Mark Z. Danielewski's unparalleled "House of Leaves."

Steve said...

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Maxine Kumin just wrote an essay for Poems Out Loud called "Having Poems By Heart" about why memorizing poems is so important.

Lori said...

Marie, thanks for leaving that bit of Wordsworth--the image of the daffodils made me smile. I'll have to look up the rest of the poem!

Pam--I remember reading Catullus in high school (and so much preferred him to Caesar!). Not surprising or original, but 5 was always my favorite (also the easiest to translate and scan!)