Columns by Maxine Kumin

Having Poems by Heart

3.30.09

I grew up in an era when in grade school we were urged to memorize Longfellow, Whittier, James Russell Lowell, even Poe, and the habit stayed with me for life. I can still call back about 30 lines of “The Vision of Sir Launfal” and can hear “the tintinabulation of the bells” whenever I want to. As I grew up I did this secretly, taking loved poems in by a sort of osmosis, absorbing the rhymed ones, which were easy to learn by heart as each rhymed word served as a prompt for its fellow.

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