The First Poem I Ever Memorized

April 3rd, 2013 by Terra | Filed under Uncategorized.

. . . was by Emily Dickinson.

Someone had given me a collection of her work: Great American Poets: Emily Dickinson when I was fourteen or fifteen. I’m not sure who it was now, though I wish I did, so I could thank them again. In late middle/early high school, you see, I got kind of obsessed with Emily Dickinson. I loved the bizarre story of her life–her unrequited love, the fact that the bulk of her poems weren’t discovered until she’d died, the way her poems were altered to fit the conventions of the times until about 1955–and in some ways I felt I almost wanted to be her.

When I saw “Sophie’s Choice,” also in about 8th grade, I nearly swooned. Not only was this an incredible, beautiful, impossibly sad movie –the likes of which I’d never seen before– but Sophie and Nathan loved Emily Dickinson too! The poem Stingo reads at the end of the movie was a poem I already liked, but afterwards I committed to heart. I can still recite it on command now:

Ample make this bed.
Make this bed with awe;
In it wait till judgment break
Excellent and fair.

Be its mattress straight,
Be its pillow round;
Let no sunrise’ yellow noise
Interrupt this ground.


Ah, still gives me shivers.

If you are interested in Emily Dickinson at all, I recommend that –besides going immediately to read as much of her work, and as much about her life as possible– you also check out Afternoons with Emily, by Rose MacMurray. At a certain point, the novel becomes less about Emily and more about the narrator, Miranda Chase (who is equally fascinating), but its an interesting insight into Emily’s life and demeanor.

For now, happy National Poetry Month! I’m curious to know which poem you’ve committed to memory, too!


3 Responses to “The First Poem I Ever Memorized”

  1. Parker Cross says:

    My Dad used to recite The House with Nobody In It (Joyce Kilmer) and Little Orphan Annie (James Whitcomb Riley) to us as kids. He did it so often we had them memorized before we could read!

  2. Miss Print says:

    My high school had a literary magazine. And one year they released a “love poem” issue for Valentines day of my freshman year.

    It had “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost and “Annabelle Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe. Both poems were new to me at the time (I hadn’t gotten into poems yet) and they both rocked my world so for days I carried the issue around to commit both to memory.

  3. Terra says:

    Love this. I think I tried memorizing “The Bells” in high school too, but failed. Poe is definitely a mind-blower!

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