Memorizing Poetry

“Mommy, where do the birds sleep at night?”  my four-year old asked as we were looking out the window on a spring morning at the life outside.  The little birds were hopping from the trees to a little patch of green grass and back again.

“Remember?  Birdies asleep in the forks of the trees?  What poem is that from?  Do you remember?” I asked.

My mind is full of dozens of poems that we have memorized and I often find myself thinking about them as we go about our days.

“Hmmm, I can’t remember.”

Moments later he was hiding under a blanket reciting a poem that I had never heard him say before…

The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;

She shines on thieves on the garden wall,

On streets and fields and harbour quays,

And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.

He peaked his head out and asked me, “What’s the rest of it mommy?”

“Oh, that’s it!” I exclaimed and we finished it together.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,

The howling dog by the door of the house,

The bat that lies in bed at noon,

All love to be out by the light of the moon.


But all of the things that belong to the day

Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;

And flowers and children close their eyes

Till up in the morning the sun shall arise.

Robert Louis Stevenson is our all time favorite composer of children’s poetry and most of the poems we have learned are his.

Growing up I thought I hated poetry.  I had almost no exposure to it and I would tune it out if I did come across it.

As a mother I had an inkling that I “should” be reading poetry to my children in spite of my personal feelings for it so I bought a book of children’s poems at a book sale once.  The pictures were pretty but I never read it and it sadly sat on the shelf for years.

One day as I was getting serious about memorizing I pulled it out and discovered what a treasure it was.  It was Robert Louis Stevenson!  He wrote a poem for just about every delightful thing in a child’s life and has an answer to so many of their questions.

Just a few weeks ago after our three-month trip to Guatemala, where the sun behaves very differently than here, my four-year old was complaining about going to bed when it wasn’t even night yet so we recited Bed In Summer…

In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candle-light.

In summer quite the other way,

I have to go to bed by day.


I have to go to bed and see

the birds still hopping on the tree,

Or hear the grown-up people’s feet

Still going past me in the street.


And does it not seem hard to you,

When all the sky is clear and blue,

And I should like so much to play,

To have to go to bed by day?

Because we say our poems every day my little ones learn them without even trying.  I often hear them reciting bits and pieces and they are always quick to correct an older person that has forgotten a line whether they want help or not.

Memorizing does so much for the memory and the mind.  I have noticed a huge difference, not only in my children but in myself, since we have started memorizing daily.

My ten-year old and I just finished memorizing The Day Is Done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  It is a beautiful work of art.

The day is done, and the darkness

Falls from the wings of NIght,

As a feather is wafted downward

From an eagle in his flight.


I see the lights of the village

Gleam through the rain and mist,

And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me

That my soul cannot resist:


A feeling of sadness and longing,

That is not akin to pain,

And resembles sorrow only

As the mist resembles the rain.


Come, read to me some poem,

Some simple and heartfelt lay,

That shall soothe this restless feeling,

And banish the thoughts of day.


Not from the grand old masters,

Not from the bards sublime,

Whose distant footsteps echo

Through the corridors of Time.


For, like strains of martial music,

Their mighty thoughts suggest

Life’s endless toil and endeavor;

And to-night I long for rest.


Read from some humbler poet,

Whose songs gushed from his heart,

As showers from the clouds of summer,

Or tears from the eyelids start;


Who, through long days of labor,

and nights devoid of ease,

Still heard in his soul the music

Of wonderful melodies.


Such songs have power to quiet

The restless pulse of care,

and come like the benediction

That follows after prayer.


Then read from the treasured volume

The poem of thy choice,

And lend to the rhyme of the poet

The beauty of thy voice.


And the night shall be filled with music,

And the cares, that infest the day,

Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,

and as silently steal away.

I have a hard time keeping up with my children because they memorize so easily and they know so many more poems than I do but I stick with it.

If I were to recommend one thing to a busy parent it would be to read and memorize poetry with your children every single day, if only for 3 minutes.   It will exercise your minds and bring beauty into your lives.

What is your favorite poem?

5 thoughts on “Memorizing Poetry

  1. Vickie

    I think memorizing poems (and other things) is so important. My Mother used to recite “Abou Ben Adhem” by James Henry Leigh Hunt so that has always been one of my favorites.

  2. Dani

    Lara, I want to paint a border around my room at school and place a poem in it. Do you have an inspiring poem to recommend for jr. high aged kids? There are so many to choose from that I’m really struggling with my decision. Help!

  3. Cherie

    My favorite poem might always be “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” by Eugene Field, one of my favorite poets. My mother read that to me a lot as a child, the picture book fell apart. Now we have multiple copies with various illustrations, and of course other books of poetry as well.
    However, you inspire me to memorize more of it.
    High School English convinced my that I really didn’t like poetry, that it didn’t make sense. I think I’ve finally recovered. Homeschooling did that for me. Reading poems every morning to Collin made them enjoyable again.
    I thought I hated History too. Turns out it’s really interesting. 🙂


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