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How To Memorize A Poem

Updated on November 29, 2007

For a while in my career I was known as the person who could perform from memory poems of any length. On two days notice for instance I was able to perform, in its entirety, Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." That performance took 45 minutes! People thought I had some sort of amazing memory. In fact the secret was this almost mechanical technique which allowed me to commit huge amounts of text to memory. If what you want to memorize is long the process can be a grind and tests your commitment to the project. But for shorter works it is amazingly quick and easy.

Step One: Read the poem to yourself (not outloud)

Step Two: Now read only the first line of the poem outloud. Take your eyes from the page and immediately, outloud, say the line again. Glance quickly to make sure you got it right. If you made a mistake, do it over. Now move on to the second line and repeat the procedure- one outloud reading followed by one outloud recitation of the line from memory. Do this for every line in the poem (in order, I guess it goes without saying).

Step Three: Once you have completed going through the poem, go back to the beginning. This time read outloud the first two lines, look away and repeat them outloud. Check briefly that you got it right. If you make a mistake do it over. Now move on to the next two lines and so forth going through the poem two lines at a time.

Steps Four thru Seven: Repeat the process three lines at a time, then 4 lines at a time, then 5 and then 6. I have found that by the 6th pass, no matter how long or short the poem, you will have the whole thing committed to memory. At some point in this process you will find that you are able to recite the whole poem without hardly a glance at the poem. I recommend doing all six passes even if you already seem to have the poem down before then.

Step Eight: Recite the whole poem, preferably just before you go to bed at night.

Step Nine (IMPORTANT): Stop thinking about the poem and just sleep on it. Your sleeping mind is very important for memory- it sort of saves to your brains harddrive what has been floating around in its RAM while it worked through the poem.

The next day you should find (perhaps with a little glance at the first line of the poem to kidkstart your memory) that you can recite the whole poem. Now recite the poem once more, to yourself with meaning! Depending on when you want to perform the poem you may want to recite it once a day or every couple of days before your performance. You have mechanically memorized the text, now is your opportunity to explore the poem and all its hidden meanings and connections without needing the text in front of you.

Note: This memory may fade over time, if you do not give it a run through every so often. I couldn't recite "Howl' straight through now if you asked me to. Give me a day or two.

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      Brian 12 months ago

      Thank you for this! I spent half an hour learning the Wild Swans at Coole, and it's still all there a day later!

      I wish they taught this method in school...

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      Riley 2 years ago

      I've been memorising poems lately just for fun. I usually recite them when I'm alone or walking home. However, it was taking quite a while to remember even short poems, so I thought I'd have a look online to see what techniques I could find. I tried this method with a 40 line poem and an hour later I can recite the entire thing from start to finish. While a 30 line poem used to take me about 2-3 hours. Thank you!

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      Michelle 2 years ago

      BEST.TIP.EVER!!

      THANK YOU!!

      I had to learn a poem in french, memorized it in 5 minutes!

    • profile image

      annon 2 years ago

      BEST TIP EVER :)

    • profile image

      Annalise 2 years ago

      ive got to learn a scots poem in 3 days and this worked!

    • profile image

      Abby 3 years ago

      Yay! I had to memorize a poem for English as summer homework, and I already have it down completely! I started the process only 2 days ago! It really works! USE IT!

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      Víctor 3 years ago

      I have to memorize a page-long poem for Spanish... here goes nothing!

    • profile image

      lolololololololollol 3 years ago

      Im z nArwalllllllllllllllp

    • profile image

      gggggggggggg5 3 years ago

      Im going to poem she was a great time to get the best way for me to the next few days ago by the way to get the best of the most important thing to do with the help of my favorite things that are available in the morning.

    • profile image

      poooooooooooooooooooooooooooooop 3 years ago

      thx btw im also GALOL

    • profile image

      G A LO L 3 years ago

      T H x

    • profile image

      jameriaa 3 years ago

      thanks I had a poem to memorize about figurative language in one day and I did it and this really helped me : )

    • profile image

      MalamMagnetBiru 3 years ago

      You saved me. I have a festival to perform at today, and for some screwed up reason, I had to rewrite an entirely new poem & memorise it within 2 hours.

      Thank you.

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      sarah 3 years ago

      We had to memorize the road not taken. I have a horrible memory so it took me 4 hours using this method.

    • profile image

      nsdgdb 4 years ago

      hey thx for the technique I gotta memorize a mark slaughter poem in 20 min and this worked like a boss

    • profile image

      Mylindaminka 4 years ago

      Впрочем, это еще не означает, что в XXI веке нам следует опасаться ошибок прошлого. Прежде чем попасть на прилавки косметических магазинов, современная косметика проходит множество разнообразных тестов и становится все более и более полезной (например, гипоаллергенной). Кроме того, щеки со свежим розовым румянцем - один из первых признаков хорошего здоровья. Возможно, именно поэтому мы подсознательно стремимся так выглядеть?

    • profile image

      Arvid 4 years ago

      I've created a webpage that helps you using this method: http://arvidj.github.com/poemizer/

    • profile image

      FiviogsZign 4 years ago

      My spouse and i helpful to receive high on life nevertheless recently We have piled up an amount of resistance.

    • profile image

      Joe Schmo 4 years ago

      Great method. I was stressed out that I had to memorize 51 lines in the poem "Paul Revere's Ride" and had waited until the weekend to do it. On Monday night (I went back to school on Tuesday), I was able to memorize 30 lines in about 2 hours because of this. Thank you!

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      Allison 4 years ago

      You are actually my current favorite person. Thank you so very much for this method, I've almost got this poem down completely! :)

    • profile image

      mary 4 years ago

      THIS ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EVERY ONE SHOULD TRY IT :)

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      Ariell 4 years ago

      this helped a ton. thanks. i found that i was memorizing it in the morning on the bus, and by the time i got home i lost it a little. i found a recording of it (its thanatopsis) and played it while i slept. that reinforced everything i had memorized over night. maybe this will help some of you. it really helped me. i had been memorizing it for a week and using this i got it in two days. thank you soooo much!

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      Craig 4 years ago

      with my mindlessness I'm very forgetful but wow! VERY HELPFUL THANKS

    • profile image

      Chrestano 4 years ago

      Very useful!!! Helps me be spiffy

    • profile image

      Brooke 4 years ago

      Oh my gosh this worked! Thank you so So SO much! I feel more confident now and now this page is bookmarked forever now!! :) Thanks a million! :D

    • profile image

      flarb 4 years ago

      OOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMGGGGGGGGGGGG

    • profile image

      Chris 4 years ago

      Thank you for savng my life, this methoud actually worked! Better than the others.

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      LOL 4 years ago

      This method only helps me remember key words; I can't remember the "but" "or" and "and"... and also, I have trouble connecting the verses together even though I know them separately...

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      Pp 4 years ago

      I don't undertand how it is working for all of you. I have been trying to memorize an 8-line poem for the last 45 minutes and I still can't get past the 4th line. Is there something I'm missing here?

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      Shashi 4 years ago

      I needed to memoriz a twenty five line poem and this helped me do it in under 20 minutes! Thanks so much!

    • profile image

      Jaby 4 years ago

      What a nice idea!!!

    • profile image

      Somebody 5 years ago

      says I love your method!!! :)

    • profile image

      David 5 years ago

      Love Step 9 im really into computers so that was just awesome for me

    • profile image

      awesome bhutan 5 years ago

      this method is awesome

    • profile image

      Nobody 5 years ago

      I hope its work.. I'm gonna try some... wish me luck

    • profile image

      billie 5 years ago

      what if its in a different language your learning at school?

    • profile image

      Hugo 5 years ago

      Thanks a lot it seems that the more you read the poem, the more you will understand and know the poem by heart! :)

    • profile image

      Austin 5 years ago

      Thanks A LOT!! Practically saved my LIFE!!!!!! :)

    • profile image

      gwern 5 years ago

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      Croat 5 years ago

      Last night I ve put your method to test with Rade Serbedzija´s ?Kose boje maka? . Well, this method works!:)

      Always wondered how someone memorizes a poem and recites it, now i know. My lady friends will suffer! ;)))

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      Serena 5 years ago

      I have to memorise different poems and texts in Chinese...i usually forget or keep stuffing up. I'll try this!

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      Chef 5 years ago

      Hey dude!! Thanks a lot...It helps so much

    • profile image

      momica 5 years ago

      i love christopher camacho......

    • profile image

      ana karen 5 years ago

      i love a boy and im go in to send him a pem

    • profile image

      Muzzammil Manzoor 5 years ago

      J.J Haves, I am indebted to you for these very useful tips. I memorised a 34 line poem in half an hour, completely. You have done a great service to the people by posting this, and we all are very deeply greatful to you.

      Enough of the flowery vocab. This article is darn awesome.

    • profile image

      AnkiBlank 5 years ago

      I think this iOS app is suitable to learn by heart.

      http://ankiblank.com

    • profile image

      RachelGabriella 5 years ago

      i loved it! you should teach memory classes...cause this technique totally worked! i love it!

    • profile image

      nfectionO 5 years ago

      Thanks man! Memorized a 28 line poem in 30 minutes.

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      ad 5 years ago

      i think this is the best i say so far

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      Sarah 5 years ago

      Im supposed to study a poem from my exams,and I hope this method works,coz its really important.wish me luck

    • profile image

      Julia 5 years ago

      I have 2 memorize a 3 page poem in lik no time I hope it works

    • profile image

      Pb N. J 5 years ago

      that's awesome and i'll do me best. wish me best lucks forks and spoons ^_^

    • profile image

      Pb N. J 5 years ago

      that's awesome and i'll do me best. wish me best lucks forks and spoons ^_^

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      Kay 5 years ago

      Thanks so much! We have to memorize a 20 line poem, and being me, I put it off to the last minute... o_o

      But thank you again, this was a wonderful way to memorize it. :3

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      Stephanie 5 years ago

      Well, This method doesn't work as well when I'm using music but it works when I don't

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      Stephanie 5 years ago

      Thank you for this method! I'm trying to memorize Te Rainstick by Seamus Heaney, but I cat seem to get the whole thing down. I'm going to use this and tell you how I did. Oh, and I'm using music. It kind of helps once you get used to the rhythm because you get the idea of what words go where. Thank you again for this!!!!!

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      Lucille 5 years ago

      whoops time is supposed to be tip. Thanks for the tip

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      Lucille 5 years ago

      Thanks for the time about sleeping on it! It really helped and made me excited that I didn't need to stay up overnight to cram it in.

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      Kelse c: 5 years ago

      Amazing Learned It In 2 Minutes ^.^

      Thank You :D

    • profile image

      Chinclatata 5 years ago

      i need a different way it still is NOT working

    • profile image

      Chinclatata 5 years ago

      ok this doesn't work at all clearly or i wouldn't still be trying to memorize this poem

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      Chelsea 5 years ago

      This method is amazing! For one of my classes I had to recite the Inferno. All the way through. All cantos. This saved me!

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      5 years ago

      This beautiful method really works. It is better if you do not leave your memorization till the day before you have to recite poem at school :-). It works even for longer poems like Dover Beach or The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock; though with longer poems it is better to divide them into shorter parts as memorizing the whole piece at one go may be quite time demanding. It depends on your speed, a sonnet (14 lines) can be memorized in 10-20 minutes, longer poems of 40 lines in an hour but the time quite varies, depending on your personality, the poem, its metre, its language. It also helps when you read the poem first time quietly that you do not read mechanically but with understanding vividly imagining the pictures the words evoke. Enjoy many poems.

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      Cloud 5 years ago

      Thank's to the guy who wrote this. It works really well. Thank's again to spend your time to post this online.

    • profile image

      Cloud 5 years ago

      Thank's to the who wrote this. It really helps a lot. Thank's again for taking your time to share this to us.

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      John 5 years ago

      Thank's to the guy who posted this! I almost gut flunked in English class.

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      mary 5 years ago

      working well!!!

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      Zoe 5 years ago

      Wow thank you! Im going to use this to memorise This Shore-Tom Milsom and maybe use it to learn my lines for my drama production in the summer \m/

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      natalie 5 years ago

      We have to memorize the poem "If" in my A-1 class. I want to get 105% but i have to say it tomorrow!!! Your tip has helped a LOT! It took me a weeek to remember the Poem "Road Not Taken" and "Stoping By Woods on a Snowy Eveing" Now maybe my crush will notice me!!!

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      Jasmineeee , 5 years ago

      UGH , This Was So Much Help I Love This It Really Does Help !

    • profile image

      Hana 5 years ago

      I'm trying to memorize the Raven for my sixth grade English class. We were supposed to memorize a poem that was at least ten lines, and I'm really ambitious, so I chose the raven. (108 lines) I've got it all down but the last two stanzas, but I wish I had found this earlier. It really works. Thanks!

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      katlyn 5 years ago

      you guys have it easy i have to recite stanza 1&2 of the raven

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      bluebrat 5 years ago

      thank u so much this helped me a lot in school.i had to memorize a visit from st.nicholas in one day now i can be in the schools wiinter program.(: :P.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! thank u!!!!!!!!!

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      Jordann 5 years ago

      I have to memorize a 10-line poem in Spanish by the end of the week, and so far this is helping! Thank you so much!

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      peter 5 years ago

      this works great but somwwtimes u have to do the line thing twice

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      Gloria 5 years ago

      i like this method a lot! but for me it kinda of gets me used to the words but not know it kind of...but i had to memorize 56 lines of Paul Revere but it might be the way i learn because when i started typing the 4 lines and what not on my computer and saying it and then deleting it and retyping it and that helped me a little more

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      Nick 5 years ago

      awesome. works great

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      Jacob 5 years ago

      Wow this even works for a French poem (Déjuner du matin)!

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      Paul 5 years ago

      I just memorized Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein in about 40 minutes. Took me longer than other people here, it seems, but it's very handy, and will work well for me learning the lyrics to songs for while I learn the guitar.

      Thanks for this, and to everyone unsure about it, stick with it, everything clicks and comes good all of a sudden and it's an amazing feeling. :)

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      Julia 5 years ago

      OMG! it totally worked. I memorized it in 20 minutes and still remembered it the next day! I've now got it memorized a month before I have to recite it. Thanks so much!

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      Julia 5 years ago

      I have to memorize a road not taken for my 8th grade english class and this looks like it might work!

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      Solo 6 years ago

      This is brilliant!

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      Dominic 6 years ago

      I have to memorize the prologue of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English and this is helping me so very much. Great method!

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      anupam 6 years ago

      man i thanx to whoever wrote this i had a matter of reputation but now i will b able to memorise . thankx for the tips champ and i am only 13

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      jj norts 6 years ago

      this stuff works so good!!!!

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      Abigail 6 years ago

      This helped me SO much! Thank you thank you thank you!!

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      Ezion 6 years ago

      thanks im 13 and had to recite the opening lines to the declaration of independence and thanks to you method i memorized the opening in 10-15 minutes

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      Rose 6 years ago

      I had to memorise a 20 line poem in just half an hour (I am only 12) and I found it incredibly hard the next I had to do it again but I had done some reaserching and found this technique the next I used it and aced it!!!

      xxx Rose

      p.s. It was an exercise we had to do to build up to memorising Shakespare (not all of it but a fare amount of it).

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      Daniel 6 years ago

      Hey is it possible to write the lines down instead of saying them?

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      GQ 6 years ago

      Your method is a godsend for PUA's. Thank you.

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      Skyler 6 years ago

      I have to memorize a 45 line poem. Hope this works!!!

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      souad 6 years ago

      omg it actually work i got a 97 on my three page test by robert frost

    • profile image

      EthanNeedsHelp 6 years ago

      I hav to memorize a Phoenix and a turtle by shakespeare, and if this strategy works I will b back to thank u

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      Samantha 6 years ago

      Great method! :) I memorized "shall I compare thee to a summer's day" in about one hour. Now I'm going to do "The Raven," just for kicks, which will undoubtedly take a while... :)

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      CHYEAH GURL 6 years ago

      thanks! Helped me heaps! And i mean heaps... :)

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      Trinity  6 years ago

      Thanks for the tips! I have to memorize 2 Chinese poems for my Chinese class, and this is helpful. I'm only 11. I'm not good at memorizing, so I'll try this method. Thanks again! :)

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      PSG Ninja 6 years ago

      I'm a freshman in highschool and I have to have "Kubla Khan" memorized and ready for recitation by tomorrow. Ugh. Imma try your method. I hope it works. And if not, wel, thanks anyway.

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      Louis 6 years ago

      hey there,

      it seems this method works but Ill try it on a 30 line poem.

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      Meghan 6 years ago

      My poem is a Crocodiles Toothache and I can not get how people memorize a poem so fast but I have to present the poem tomarrow and I am soo nervous can you please HELP ME !! I am like having a nervous break down .

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      KGT11 6 years ago

      Thanks so much! I had to memorize a poem in one night and this helped sooooooooooooooooo much!!!! :)

      Thanks!