My Epic Poetic Odyssey Takes Off

Choosing the first poem to memorise for my Epic Poetic Odyssey was more difficult than I expected. After all, a poem memorised becomes a part of you.

In Grade 8, I memorised Lewis Carroll’s fantastical nonsense poem Jabberwocky, and it’s still with me. Maybe the burbling Jabberwock and the beamish boy are to blame for my bent towards fantastic adventures starring 11-year-old boys (Toby Fitzroy, I’m looking at you.) Now there’s a thought to ponder!


What if instead I’d memorised a religious verse like a segment of Milton’s Paradise Lost or something political like Hannah More’s Slavery: A Poem? Would I somehow be a different person today? A zealot or maybe an avenger. I wonder…

Critical Criteria

On a more practical note, I wanted to pick a poem that’s realistic in length and difficulty. It would be seriously embarrassing if I failed in the first month of my Odyssey, so, given the rusty state of my rote memory skills, I decided twenty-five lines or fewer would be best.

The poem had to speak to me in some way, either in form or lyricism, theme or allusion. Thirty-something years on from eighth grade, I’m no longer in a Jabberwocky frame of mind. I want a poetic punch in the solar plexus. Or at least a nudge that tickles, excites, or stirs me.

So with my criteria in mind, a short list of possibilities coalesced:

  • The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats
  • A Frog’s Fate by Christina Rossetti
  • Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116
  • Hope is the thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson
  • A Martian Sends a Postcard Home by Craig Raine
  • Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley

And the Winner Is…

The first poem of my Epic Poetic Odyssey will be The Second Coming. Not exactly the cheeriest poem, but its timelessness speaks to me. Even though The Second Coming was written nearly a hundred years ago, Yeats’s observations about a world spinning out of control could be penned today. For example:

…Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

That pretty much sums up the maniacal circus that is world politics today. With the pillars of democracy teetering under the weight of insanity (or, in Yeats’s more poetic phrasing, “passionate intensity”), even the stoutest heart starts looking for a Second Coming.

Plus, it’s neat to see Yeats’s poignant phrases echoed in well-known literary works such as Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958) and Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968).

You can read the whole poem here. Tell me in the comments what you think of my first choice.

Watch This Space

So my assignment is set. For the next four weeks, I’ll be committing this poem to memory. Watch this space for resources, mnemonic devices, poetic interludes, and interviews with some of the delightful poets and poetry lovers I’m getting to know on my Epic Poetic Odyssey.


Image Credits via Unsplash

Photo by Jon Flobrant

Photo by Joshua Earl

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John Tenniel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

My Epic Poetic Odyssey

I’m setting off on a yearlong adventure—my Epic Poetic Odyssey. For each of the next twelve months, I will select a poem and commit it to memory over the course of the month. Motivating me are the same desires that have launched adventurers throughout the ages: I want to expand my mind. I’m after refreshment and inspiration, new words and mindsets, bigger (mental) muscles, greater focus, and a flock of new friends.

I’ll hit the road as a neophyte, a near noob to all things poetical. My only training is high school English and a few fumbling poetic encounters as an adult. The academic approach left me cold and uninspired, so I’m changing tack and approaching as an explorer of new worlds, with curiosity as my compass and Google as my guide (and a few poet friends I intend to pester.)

Early each month, I’ll pick a poem to commit it to memory. Later that month, I’ll perform and post it. Along the way, I’ll share some inspiration—interviews with poets, a brace of poems caught in the wild, fantastic resources to dig through, and interesting insights to the world of poetry. No dull academics here—only wild, wordy adventure.

Wanted: One Band of Hearty Travel Companions

Care to join me on my Epic Poetic Odyssey? I can’t promise comfort in every poetic port, but I vow to keep you amused. How can it not be fun to watch me trip through Tennyson and wrestle with Robert Burns?

It’s easy: At the beginning of month, pick a poem to memorise. At the end of the month, perform and—if you want—share it. Or you can just encourage me by following and liking my posts. There will be laughs and gasps, thrills and spills, cheers and prizes! (Yay for prizes!)

Benefits of Joining the Adventure

Beyond the camaraderie, memory-making on the road, and said prizes there are lots of compelling reasons to read and memorise poetry.

Creative Superfood

Poetry is superfood for writers. It enriches vocabulary, encourages complex syntax, and develops the ear. It helps us to think and write evocatively. Perhaps most valuable of all for writers, poetry encourages brevity while discouraging insipid word choice. Memorising poetry builds the working memory capacity, which improves creativity.

Soul Food

When we are overloaded with information and overwhelmed by bad news, indulging in beauty and simple pleasures is salve for the soul. Reading and memorising poetry requires no special equipment or cash outlay—only some regular time to sit quietly and focus on words.

Focus—it’s the perfect antidote to technology-mediated attention deficit. Social media and electronic devices are affecting the way we read and diminishing our ability to focus. Some experts go farther, suggesting the Internet is making us stupid. Fight back with poetry memorisation. Negate negative news with a monthly dose of focused beauty. It will do your soul good.

Poetry can be a great connector. The sentiments it conveys—grief, despair, wonder, loneliness, awe—are universal, assuring the reader (or listener) they are not alone.

Cognitive Calisthenics

Reading, reciting, and memorising poetry do wonders for the brain. From teaching rhythm to children to staving off cognitive decline in old age, it’s part of the perfect brain fitness program no matter what age you are. I dare you not to be inspired after watching this darling three-year-old recite Billy Collins’s Litany. (Unlike last week’s tiny muse, I don’t know this little guy.)


Personal Development

Just think what amassing a mental storehouse of poetry will do for you! With a poem for every mood and occasion, you’ll have nearly no need for a therapist AND have an enviable party trick up your sleeve.

Travel Itinerary

My Epic Poetic Odyssey sets off on 1 September.

First poem selected by 3 September

Memorised by 27 September

Shared by 30 September

And ditto each month following

So, Are You In?

I hope you’ll join me! Jump in at any time. If you tag along, please leave a comment. You can memorise the same poem as mine or pick your own. Here’s a handy resource for finding a suitable poem to memorise. I’ll share more resources in upcoming posts.

I have a few days to decide on my first poem. I’d love you to leave some suggestions in the comments. Please, don’t assign me epic poetry in volumes 1 -3, and let’s agree not to start with Burns. Love him, but the first month’s poem has to be achievable! (I might set Burns for next July!)

Wish me luck and happy trails!

Image Credits from Unsplash:

Mantas Hesthaven

Thought Catalog

Joshua Earle


Adventurers by Visual Procrastinations, CC 2.0 BY-NC