Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem

Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem

by Catherine Robson


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Many people in Great Britain and the United States can recall elderly relatives who remembered long stretches of verse learned at school decades earlier, yet most of us were never required to recite in class. Heart Beats is the first book to examine how poetry recitation came to assume a central place in past curricular programs, and to investigate when and why the once-mandatory exercise declined. Telling the story of a lost pedagogical practice and its wide-ranging effects on two sides of the Atlantic, Catherine Robson explores how recitation altered the ordinary people who committed poems to heart, and changed the worlds in which they lived.

Heart Beats begins by investigating recitation's progress within British and American public educational systems over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and weighs the factors that influenced which poems were most frequently assigned. Robson then scrutinizes the recitational fortunes of three short works that were once classroom classics: Felicia Hemans's "Casabianca," Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," and Charles Wolfe's "Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna." To conclude, the book considers W. E. Henley's "Invictus" and Rudyard Kipling's "If—," asking why the idea of the memorized poem arouses such different responses in the United States and Great Britain today.

Focusing on vital connections between poems, individuals, and their communities, Heart Beats is an important study of the history and power of memorized poetry.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691163376
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 03/22/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 3.00(d)

About the Author

Catherine Robson is is professor of English at New York University. She is the author of Men in Wonderland: The Lost Girlhood of the Victorian Gentleman (Princeton).

Table of Contents

List of Figures ix
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction 1
Felicia Hemans, "Casabianca" 91
Thomas Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" 123
Charles Wolfe, "The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna" 191
Afterword 219
Appendixes 235
Notes 243
Works Cited 273
Index 289

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Heart Beats is a work of passionate intelligence—sensitive to issues of class and to the place of recitation in the disciplining of minds and bodies, but at the same time open to the idea that verse memorization can liberate and shape social practices for the better."—John O. Jordan, University of California, Santa Cruz

"This innovative book gives an institutional history of memorizing poetry in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century schools, and provides an account of the psychological effects of this practice in the lives of students who memorized. A key scholarly book in the field, this book is a winner."—Linda Peterson, Yale University

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