125 Best Poems to Memorize

If you came this way like a broken king, the hedges would be white again . . . in May.
--T. S. Eliot

According to the working draft of Christian Integration, students could memorize 60 poems by age 16. But which poems? Here is a list of 125 to choose from. I would imagine introducing all the poems, over ages 6-16, with, on average, one new poem to memorize per month. There are also many other poems I would introduce to students, that are not as suitable for memorization--"Goblin Market," for one by Christina Rossetti.

My criteria were:
  • Brevity
  • Comprehensibility (with guidance)
  • Suitability--they primarily draw on life experiences familiar to the young while pushing them to explore new questions and emotions. So for example, there are some poems dealing with death, but not too many dealing with world-weariness or unrequited love. At the same time, that are not preachy or sentimental. I don't like to use poetry as a didactic moral tool. That's not its role. Just tell the kid it's wrong to lie and why. Then, go read poetry.
  • Sense-oriented--tactile poems, using sensory images. There are not too many metaphysical poems.
  • Cultural literacy--some serve to introduce vocabulary and phrases part and parcel with English language and literature.
  • Beauty--finally, because they are beautiful and whet the desire for beauty.
Thoughts, comments, questions?
LIST I: By age 7, know 6 of the following.


  • A dillar, a dollar.
  • As I was going to St. Ives.
  • Bah, bah, black sheep. Bobby Shaftoe.
  • Cock-a-doodle-do.
  • Cross-patch, draw the latch.
  • Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John.
  • Ding-dong-bell, pussy’s in the well.
  • Georgie Porgie.
  • Hickory, Dickory, Dock.
  • Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
  • It’s Raining, It’s Pouring
  • Jack and Jill went up the hill.
  • Jack Sprat could eat no fat.
  • Jack, be nimble; Jack, be quick.
  • Lady-bird, lady-bird.
  • Little Bo-peep has lost her sheep.
  • Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn.
  • Little Jack Horner.
  • Little Miss Muffet.
  • Little Nanny Etticoat.
  • Mary, Mary, quite contrary.
  • Old King Cole.
  • Old Mother Hubbard.
  • One misty, moisty morning.
  • One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
  • Oranges and Lemons.
  • Pat a cake, pat a cake, Baker's man.
  • Pease-porridge hot.
  • Peter, Peter Pumpkin-Eater.
  • Polly, put the kettle on.
  • Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
  • Ride a cock horse.
  • Ring Around the Rosie.
  • Rock-a-by Baby, on the tree top.
  • See-saw, Margery Daw.
  • Simple Simon met a pieman.
  • Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye.
  • The Frog Who Would a-Wooing Go.
  • The lion and the unicorn.
  • The man in the moon came down too soon.
  • The north wind doth blow.
  • The Queen of Hearts.
  • There was a crooked man.
  • There was an old woman lived in a shoe.
  • Thirty Days Hath September
  • This pig went to market.
  • Three wise men of Gotham.
  • To market, to market, to buy a fat pig.
  • Tom, Tom, the piper's son.
  • Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town.
  • When good King Arthur ruled his land.
LIST II: By age 9, know previous 6 poems plus 12 more from LIST I or II


  • Caldecott, Randolph. “The House That Jack Built.”
  • Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Tavern.”
  • Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “First Fig.”
  • Rossetti, Christina. “Flint.”
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. “Requiem.”
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. “The Cow.”
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. “I Love To Be Warm By the Red Fireside.”
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. “Prelude.”
LIST III: By age 11, know previous 18 poems, plus 12 more from LIST II or III.
  • Frost, Robert. “A Dust of Snow.”
  • Graham, Kenneth. “The Toad Came Home.”
  • Hunt, Leigh. “Jenny Kiss’d Me.”
  • Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Travel.”
  • Rossetti, Christina. “The Wind.”
  • Rossetti, Christina. “Who Has Seen the Wind?”
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. “Escape at Bedtime.”
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. “The Road goes ever on.”
LIST IV: By age 13, know previous 30 poems, plus 12 more from LIST IV:

  • Anon., “Jesus-Christ, the Apple Tree.”
  • Belloc, Hilaire. “My Own Country.”
  • Blake, William. “Jerusalem.”
  • Byron, George Gordon. “The Destruction of Sennacherib.”
  • Donne, John. “Death Be Not Proud.”
  • Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “Spring and Fall.”
  • Houseman, A. E. “Loveliest of trees, the cherry.”
  • Houseman, A. E. Houseman. “The street sounds to the soldiers' tread.”
  • Longfellow, Henry. “The Arrow and the Song.”
  • Lorca, Federico Garcia. “Song of the Rider.”
  • Magee, John Gillespie. “High Flight.”
  • McCrae, John. “In Flander’s Fields.”
  • Rossetti, Christina. “A Birthday.”
  • Southey, Robert. “Inchcape Rock.” (very long)
  • Tennyson, Alfred. “Crossing the Bar.”
  • Tennyson, Alfred. “The Splendor Falls.”
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. “All that is gold does not glitter.”
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. “In western lands beneath the sun.”
  • Yeats, William Butler. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”
LIST V: By age 16, know previous 42 plus 18 more from LIST IV or V.

  • Anon. “Casey Jones.”
  • Anon. Song of Roland, selections.
  • Arnold, Matthew. “Dover Beach.”
  • Belloc, Hilaire. “The South Country.”
  • Belloc, Hilaire. “To the Balliol Men Still in Africa.”
  • Byron, George Gordon. “We’ll Go No More A-Roving.”
  • D., H. “Stars Wheel in Purple.”
  • Donne, John. “Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God.”
  • Donne, John. “Song.”
  • Eliot, T. S. “Marina.”
  • Eliot, T. S. “The Song of the Magi.”
  • Frost, Robert. “A Line-storm Song.”
  • Frost, Robert. “Reluctance.”
  • Frost, Robert. “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”
  • Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken”
  • Heaney, Seamus. “A Kite for Michael and Christopher.”
  • Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “Pied Beauty.”
  • Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “God’s Grandeur.”
  • Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “The Windhover.”
  • Houseman, A. E. “XIX: To An Athlete Dying Young.”
  • Masefield, John. “Sea-Fever.”
  • Merton, Thomas. “For My Brother Missing in Action, 1943.”
  • Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Recuerdo.”
  • Noyes, Alfred. “The Highwayman.”
  • Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Raven.”
  • Scott, Sir Walter. “Native Land.”
  • Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet LXXIII.”
  • Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet XL.”
  • Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet XCIV.”
  • Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet CXVI.”
  • Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet CXXIX.”
  • Wordsworth, William. "The World is too Much with us; late and soon.”
  • Tennyson, Alfred. “The Lady of Shalott.”
  • Tennyson, Alfred. “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
  • Tennyson, Alfred “Ulysses.”
  • Thomas, Dylan. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”
  • Whitman, Walt. “O Captain! My Captain!”
  • Yeats, William Butler. “The Second Coming.”
Suggestions and recommendations, critiques and comments most welcome.

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