Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Friday, 15 November 2013

Poems to Learn by Heart - Ana Sampson

'To store up a memory bank of poems is to build up your own unique library for life. The verses are your personal armoury…' - Ana Sampson

I don't read as much poetry as I'd like to, so when I do read some, I often reach for a collection like this, which offers a mix that I can dip in to, and then prompts me to revisit my shelves/a bookshop/the library to read more from a favourite or someone I have newly discovered. I personally found this an interesting, varied, enjoyable and satisfying selection, with some of my favourite poems included, as well as some I knew a little of, and then some that I didn't know at all before reading them here. 

The poems here are grouped into nineteen chapters, each with a theme, and each theme has a short passage introducing it and relating it to the medium of poetry. There's magic, adventure, love, reflection, family, death, war, courage, faith, advice, anger, nature and more. At the end of some of the sets of poems grouped under a particular theme, there is a quote relating to poetry and to learning it. At the back there's an index of poets and an index of titles, first lines and well-known lines.

When I pick up a book like this, it always reminds me of the joy of poetry and how some poems capture a moment, a dream, a thought or an emotion perfectly sometimes.

The focus here is on the idea of having some of these poems that you love, or connect most with, stored in your mind so that you can bring the words to mind whenever, wherever you are. The compiler writes: ' I hope that you will discover and cherish the pleasures of learning and knowing poetry by heart.' I remember learning a lot of poems as a schoolchild, and though there was always the element of 'having' to know them for the purposes of reproducting elements of them in essays and exams, I've found as the years have gone by that some of the poems I learnt back then have always stayed with me, and indeed mean more to me now than they did then. 

As with any such collection, there are always omissions, but there is certainly a broad enough selection here to prompt me to investigate some of the poets further, and also to return to my own copies of more in-depth collections by my favourites, such as Dylan Thomas and John Donne. For some of the longer poems featured here just an extract is given. 

This is a very nicely presented hardback volume; it would be lovely to give as a gift to someone special, to someone who is interested in poetry and is looking for an accessible place to start, or indeed as a gift to yourself! There's a place on the endpaper to write who it is a gift for, and who it is from, should you wish to. This is a book that I will treasure.

Some of my favourites from this collection are: 
The Good-Morrow - John Donne
To His Coy Mistress - Andrew Marvell
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night - Dylan Thomas
Anthem for Doomed Youth - Wilfred Owen
The Soldier - Rupert Brooke
Night Mail - W.H. Auden
Not Waving But Drowning - Stevie Smith
This Be the Verse - Philip Larkin

Do you have a favourite poem that you know by heart, or have always meant to learn?

Source - publisher
Publisher - Michael O'Mara 


  1. I'm not a big reader of poetry though I do love having it read to me. Only familiar with one of the poems you list, Night Mail is a wonderful poem.

  2. This seems like a lovely book. There are always poems I mean to learn off by heart, and this is the perfect prompt!


  3. I also do not read as much poetry as I like. I tend not to read it like this, instead I usually focus upon a single poet and read lots of their poems over a week or so. I like to try to get into an artist's head.

    Of course maybe if I read collections like this I would read more! When it comes down to it, anyone one reads these works is a good way!

  4. I'm more likely to quote chunks of Shakespeare, but yes, To His Coy Mistress is one I often quote (the last couple of lines) and then there's TS Eliot's Prufrock - perhaps my favourite poem of all time. I find it harder to memorise them now than when I was a kid though...I tend to just remember a few lines.


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