In Committing Poetry to Memory- Part II, I had promised to introduce you to a couple of amazing poets who think and believe that memorizing poetry is still not “rote and silly and futile“. This week, I have  the brilliant poet and scholar Chris Nealon, sharing with us his memory of memorizing a poem.

Visually challenged Artist George Redhawk

Visually challenged Artist George Redhawk

Chris Nealon on being arrested by Yeats, W.B

I have a bad memory for recitation, so I tend to stumble into memorizing very short poems. I remember encountering this poem from the young Yeats, “Aedh thinks of those who have spoken Evil of his Beloved,” in the liner notes to Sinéad O’Connor’s album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got one autumn afternoon in 1990. I was 23. I’d never encountered this trope of vindication in poetry before, much less in this form, crossed with tenderness both for the beautiful mortality of its addressee, and for the faint gossamer durability of the medium of poetry.

In 1990, I was working for a lesbian and gay newspaper in Boston. 100,000 people in the US had died of AIDS. The President refused to say the word on television. In queer communities – we had begun calling ourselves “queer” – tenderness and solicitude were becoming forms of militancy. So Yeats’s words went right into me. I memorized them without thinking about it. I can recite them to this day:


Aedh thinks of those who have spoken Evil of his Beloved

HALF close your eyelids, loosen your hair,
And dream about the great and their pride;
They have spoken against you everywhere,
But weigh this song with the great and their pride;
I made it out of a mouthful of air,
Their children’s children shall say they have lied.


To know more about the contributors, visit respective links

Chris Nealon: More

George Redhawk: More

Some article/s around ‘Memorization’ sourced for further reading!

Memorizing poems sucks at the time, but it…