I Carry It in My Heart: A Memorized Poem is Part of You Forever

      After reading an NPR article, “A Memorized Poem ‘Lives with You Forever,’ So Choose Carefully,” regarding the U.K.’s Poetry By Heart competition, I started to think about the poems I had to memorize in school and which ones have actually stayed with me even today, years after grade school.  One poem that always resurfaces in my memory is “The Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall.
     One year in grade school my class was assigned to recite two poems- one poem was chosen by the teacher and the other poem was the individual student’s choice. Waiting for the right one to simply catch my eye or draw me in, I spent a couple of days perusing poetry books from our school library until I came upon “The Ballad of Birmingham”, a poem based on the bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. The image of the mother searching frantically for her daughter in the rubble and finding her child’s shoe was the part of the poem that really affected me; my heart broke for that mother and what she must have been feeling. This poem really hit a nerve with me, and I felt compelled to share it with the class. I just wanted to ask my classmates Isn’t that awful how this poor mother lost her daughter?  Don’t you feel her sadness and despair as she lifts the shoe out of the rubble? To this day, I remember how that poem made me feel, I remember the need I had within me to share it with others. 
     The author of the article, Camila Domonoske, wrote Jean Sprackland [helped assemble 130 eligible poems to recite for the competition] says that a poem known by heart becomes a part of you, and “it’s something that lives with you forever.” For some, that might stay true even if you lose a few of the words. Truer words were never spoken, Mr. Sprackland!  Though I can’t recite the words by heart any longer, the images in the poem “Ballad of Birmingham” and the sorrow I felt when I first encountered the poem years ago still linger and creep into my mind from time to time.  How wondrous that a poet’s words can strike in such a manner, the way those words can anchor themselves in one’s heart and live there forever.
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14 thoughts on “I Carry It in My Heart: A Memorized Poem is Part of You Forever

  1. I can see how a poem lives in your heart forever – we ate up Shel Silverstein’s crazy poems in elementary school. Now I look for poems that speak to my heart. I will have to look for the Ballad of Birmingham. It sounds so powerful!

  2. The Ballad of Birmingham is one of my favorites! I memorized the Mending Wall in High School and just parts come back…but I always remember the gist. That is what is important. I think there is much value to memorizing great work. I totally agree with Sprackland. We can start this early in kids lives. XO Thanks for the memory !

  3. Yes, I feel that lines from poems can become the music of our heart. I nevfer was asked to recite a poem myself in school, but I challenge my students to learn parts of poems to hold them in their hearts.

  4. Jaana says:

    I did poetry with my sheltered high school students. One of my lowest students had written an ‘I remember’ poem that he recited/read when he presented his portfolio. I think all of has had the chills and goosebumps….you could have heard a pin drop as everyone was so quiet. I don’t think I will forget his performance anytime soon.

  5. I love your image of words anchoring themselves in our hearts and living there forever. This post makes me want to ask my students to memorize some poetry.

  6. luckygurl says:

    I have most of Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” committed to memory. “You do not have to be perfect…” it begins. It gets me through hard days. Thanks for the reminder of how powerful words can be…

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