Today’s poetry news looks at the issue of whether learning poetry by heart is relevant in the modern world and if so, what can it teach us? Columnist Fleda Brown this week wrote a column discussing this possibility and it made very interesting reading. Most of us will remember being at school and having to learn everything by heart, from times tables to algebra equations. Many of us may have forgotten much of what we learned too.
So why is it that poetry is different and why does it have such a lasting effect? Some poems are easier to memorise than others, like the poems of Rudyard Kipling for one. Kipling wrote prolifically and many of his poems, or at the very least parts of his poems, are ingrained in us. One of his most famous poems for instance is ‘If’ which includes the opening lines:
The first two lines of this particular poem at least are much paraphrased and adapted for all manner of situations and perhaps prove the old adage that
There is no doubt that the ability to memorise a poem will not only stand you in good stead and impress your friends at parties but also give you cause to really study each word in order to understand the meaning behind the poem. Memorising poetry more than anything else is good for the creative part of your mind, enabling you to develop your thinking processes as you go through life.
While some poetry can be heavy going Rudyard Kipling’s poems are easy to memorise because they have such strong rhythms; more importantly they often speak of common situations and encourage the reader to really analyse the verse and you can easily find yourself applying Kipling’s words to everyday situations, even in this age. If any part of his poetry can be considered jarring to today’s modern sensibilities it is that he appeared to write mostly about men, about things and events that concerned men and about men’s feelings. It could also be said that his writing belonged to a simpler age, one that harked back to a time of the ‘stiff upper lip’ and learning by rote as the children of the Puritans had to when learning the Psalms. This was made easier for them by turning the Psalms into verse and thus making a difficult task more enjoyable no doubt.
Kipling understood the power of verse and there is little doubt that his treatment at the hands of a bullying boarding house landlady in England probably shaped his philosophy and enabled him to write the profound verses that we know him for. Even though he wrote books for children such as ‘Kim’, ‘Captains Courageous’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ he also endeavoured to perhaps help his readers to overcome adversity and uphold a set of decent morals, as evidenced by his poem ‘If’.
By fighting against hating and being true to yourself you too can take Kipling’s words to heart.