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Poetry By heart 2021

Choose a poem - 3 different ways to help your pupils get started

Poetry By Heart has been deliberately designed to be as adaptable as possible. We know every school is different and you'll all have different ideas about where Poetry By Heart best fits with your school, your pupils, your curriculum and, well, everything! When it comes to pupils choosing their poems, different schools go about in lots of different ways. Here are some of them.

The Wide Open choice
In this approach, you introduce your pupils to the timeline and showcase appropriate to their key stage and let them get on with it! To see those key stage selections, go to the homepage and click on the relevant Start Here button. Actually, pupils can choose any poem from any of the Poetry By Heart poem collections, but this guidance is what we think most appropriate. There are no extra marks for choosing a "hard" poem and the best performances come from speaking poems the pupil loves.

In the Start Here curated collection you'll find a section called For Students. Click on the Choose A Poem 7+/11+/14+/16+ and there's everything your pupils need to navigate their choices, including videos showing the timeline/showcase features and a Black Poets Matter blogpost showcasing all the poems on the site that are by people of colour. These videos show pupils how to use the filters to find poems and poets they might be interested to explore without scrolling through every one. Students might also like to watch Getting to know a poem, a short film in which (older) pupils talk about how they chose and got to know their poem.

Some schools task students with finding a poem they think they might like to perform and bring it into class or club, or however you're organising Poetry By Heart. The pupils have a first read-through of the poem, just to hear how it sounds, and then they talk to each other about what they chose and why, what they liked about the poem, and so on. This can help to develop confidence in their choices, be a springboard for discovering other poems through other people's choices, and it's a first low-stakes speaking-it-aloud opportunity.  

The Cluster choice
In this approach, you pre-select some poems from which your pupils select one to learn. You might not get the same 'love it' engagement as when pupils choose their own poem but we know it may be the most pragmatic choice if internet access for web browsing is limited. You may prefer to pre-select poems anyway, knowing your pupils and what might be best for them. That's all fine by us!

We'd recommend choosing at least a dozen poems so there's enough choice for different pupils, and of course you do already have a dozen pre-selected in the form of your Poetry By Heart calendar. If you need more calendars, eg one for each class, we do have some left - talk to us and we'll see what we can do!  The other cluster you might want to plan for is our Advent Calendar collection of 24 poems that will be going live on the site on 1st December. We can let you have a look at it before then if you'd like to use it as your cluster - talk to us at Challenge pupils to learn a winter/Christmas poem in time for a school performance event, or challenge them to learn it over the holidays. Very soon we'll also be announcing a chance for your pupils to feature in our 2021 Advent Performance Gallery.

The Single Poem choice
In this approach, you select a single poem for everyone to learn. You might do this as a start activity, with everyone learning a poem together as a way of having fun, building courage and confidence and getting used to the idea of it. Our Learn-Along poem resources are designed to help you do exactly that - download them, follow the instructions in the notes field, adapt them in any way you like.

Schools then take the single poem approach in different directions. You could polish up this whole class performance of the poem, video it and submit that as a Freestyle competition entry. You could use the class performance as a starting point for developing a more elaborate choral performance of the poem, with different students speaking different parts, or in costume, or whatever Freestyle style you like. You could invite individuals to go and learn a second poem for the Classic competition category, making sure their two poems include one published before 1914 and one published in or after 1914. Often, having learned a single poem in class, pupils are quite happy to go off and make their own selections - so a single poem starter can lead to the wide open approach.


We are taking the Cluster Approach

With heats in year groups 


Free-to-enter national poetry

speaking competition with

a chance to perform at

Shakespeare’s Globe, London

Simply pick a poem, learn it, perform it, Record it and Enter.



Matt Goodfellow

when shadows creep across your mind and smiles are thin and tight

when you do what you believe in but question if it’s right

when you focus not on what you’ve got but all the things you lack

there may be rain at the front of the house

but sunshine round the back

when you can’t remember where you found the words you used to say

when your heartbeat is the music that you listen to each day

when you turn away from talent in case you lose the knack

there may be rain at the front of the house

but sunshine round the back


Harriet Tubman

Eloise Greenfield

Harriet Tubman didn’t take no stuff

Wasn’t scared of nothing neither

Didn’t come in this world to be no slave

And wasn’t going to stay one either

“Farewell!” she sang to her friends one night

She was mighty sad to leave ’em

But she ran away that dark, hot night

Ran looking for her freedom

She ran to the woods and she ran through the woods

With the slave catchers right behind her

And she kept on going till she got to the North

Where those mean men couldn’t find her

Nineteen times she went back South

To get three hundred others

She ran for her freedom nineteen times

To save Black sisters and brothers

Harriet Tubman didn’t take no stuff

Wasn’t scared of nothing neither

Didn’t come in this world to be no slave

And didn’t stay one either

And didn’t stay one either


There Will Come Soft Rains

Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,

And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,

And wild-plum trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire,

Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one

Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,

If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn

Would scarcely know that we were gone


Lady Icicle

E. Pauline Johnson

Little Lady Icicle is dreaming in the north-land

And gleaming in the north-land, her pillow all a-glow;

For the frost has come and found her

With an ermine robe around her

Where little Lady Icicle lies dreaming in the snow.

Little Lady Icicle is waking in the north-land,

And shaking in the north-land her pillow to and fro;

And the hurricane a-skirling

Sends the feathers all a-whirling

Where little Lady Icicle is waking in the snow.

Little Lady Icicle is laughing in the north-land,

And quaffing in the north-land her wines that overflow;

All the lakes and rivers crusting

That her finger-tips are dusting,

Where little Lady Icicle is laughing in the snow.

Little Lady Icicle is singing in the north-land,

And bringing from the north-land a music wild and low;

And the fairies watch and listen

Where her silver slippers glisten,

As little Lady Icicle goes singing through the snow.

Little Lady Icicle is coming from the north-land,

Benumbing all the north-land where’er her feet may go;

With a fringe of frost before her

And a crystal garment o’er her,

Little Lady Icicle is coming with the snow.


A Chant against Death

Mervyn Morris

say family

say friends

say wife

say love

say life

say learning




say cycle




say night & day

say sun & moon


see you soon



Mix a Pancake

Christina Rossetti

Mix a pancake,

Stir a pancake,

Pop it in the pan;

Fry the pancake,

Toss the pancake, —

Catch it if you can.


The Cataract of Lodore

Robert Southey

The Cataract strong

Then plunges along,

Striking and raging

As if a war raging

Its caverns and rocks among:

Rising and leaping,

Sinking and creeping,

Swelling and sweeping,

Showering and springing,

Flying and flinging,

Writhing and ringing,

Eddying and whisking,

Spouting and frisking,

Turning and twisting,

Around and around

With endless rebound;

Smiting and fighting,

A sight to delight in;

Confounding, astounding,

Dizzying and deafening the ear with its sound






Paper Boats

Rabindranath Tagore

Day by day I float my paper boats one by one down the running stream.

In big black letters I write my name on them and the name of the village where I live.

I hope that someone in some strange land will find them and know who I am.

I load my little boats with shiuli flowers from our garden, and hope that these blooms of the dawn will be carried safely to land in the night.

I launch my paper boats and look up into the sky and see the little clouds setting their white bulging sails.

I know not what playmate of mine in the sky sends them down the air to race with my boats!

When night comes I bury my face in my arms and dream that my paper boats float on and on under the midnight stars.

The fairies of sleep are sailing in them, and the lading is their baskets full of dreams.


The Language of Cat

Rachel Rooney

Teach me the language of Cat;

the slow-motion blink, that crystal stare,

a tight-lipped purr and a wide-mouthed hiss.

Let me walk with a saunter, nose in the air.

Teach my ears the way to ignore

names that I’m called. May they only twitch

to the distant shake of a boxful of biscuits,

the clink of a fork on a china dish.

Teach me that vanishing trick

where dents in cushions appear, and I’m missed.

Show me the high-wire trip along fences

to hideaway places, that no-one but me knows exist.

Don’t teach me Dog,

all eager to please, that slobbers, yaps and begs for a pat,

that sits when told by its owner, that’s led on a lead.

No, not that. Teach me the language of Cat.


Carolyn Hall

Little lamps of the dusk

You fly low and gold

When the summer evening

Starts to unfold.

So that all the insects,

Now, before you pass,

Will have light to see by

Undressing in the grass.

But when night has flowered,

Little lamps agleam,

You fly over tree-tops

Following a dream.

Men wonder from their windows

That a firefly goes so far.

They do not know your longing

To be a shooting star.


Fisherman Chant

John Agard

Sister river

Brother river

Mother river

Father river

O life giver

O life taker

O friend river

What have you

in store

for a poor



From my boat

I cast my net

to your heart

O friend river

and I hope

you return it

gleaming with silver

O friend river

Sister river

Brother river

Mother river

Father river

O life giver

O life taker

O friend river

What have you

in store

for a poor fisherman




Edna St Vincent Millay

The railroad track is miles away,

And the day is loud with voices speaking,

Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day

But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,

Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,

But I see its cinders red on the sky,

And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with the friends I make,

And better friends I’ll not be knowing,

Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,

No matter where it’s going.