About the Competition


Hear From The Students

Andrew Motion

Judging criteria

How the competition works

Index of poems

Poetry By Heart is an inspiring competition for students in Years 10 to 13 in schools and colleges in England to learn and to recite poems by heart.  Not in an arm-waving, props-supported thespian extravaganza, but as the outward and audible manifestation of an inwardly-understood and enjoyed poem.

The competition is a pyramid of participation from individual classrooms to whole school/college contests, then county contests, regional semi-finals and the grand final, held in recent years at Homerton College, Cambridge. In the process, pupils foster deep personal connections with the poems chosen and bring poetry alive for their friends, families and communities.

Each student is first challenged to memorise and recite two poems – one published before 1914 and one in or after 1914.  Students choose their pre-1914 poem either from the timeline anthology of 1000 years of poetry on this website or from the new Shakespeare sonnets showcase launching in January 2017. They choose their post-1914 poem either from the timeline anthology of 1000 years of poetry or from the First World War Poetry showcase, both on this website. For the regional and national finals they learn a third poem.

In 2016-17 there is also a mini-competition to learn just one sonnet written by William Shakespeare – teachers can take part in that competition too!

Poetry By Heart successfully engages young people from diverse social backgrounds and all types of school in personal discovery of the pleasures of poetry. Teachers who have organised Poetry By Heart competitions have told us it:

*was a catalyst for new approaches to poetry teaching, learning and enjoyment
*helped them to raise the profile of poetry in school/college
*helped them to focus pupil attention on the sounds of poetry as part of its meaning and pleasure
*gave their students a valued opportunity for local and national recognition

They also said their students:
*enjoyed poetry more
* were more willing to take on new challenges
*had a better understanding of how poetry works
*were better able to use memory techniques
*were more confident about speaking in public

Want to see what it’s all about? Click on this link to watch a short video filmed by Cambridge TV at the 2016 national finals.

Poetry By Heart video

At the 2015 Poetry By Heart national finals, we took a camera and some questions and spoke to the students from different backgrounds and different schools, unscripted, about their experiences of Poetry By Heart. The result is below. Please share it with everyone you possibly can who may be interested. Spread the word on social media. Put it in newsletters. Show it in classrooms. Show it in assemblies. Send it out into the world!


Hear From The Students from Poetry By Heart on Vimeo.


Ever since I first started reading poetry in earnest, more than forty years ago, I’ve always thought its meaning has as much to do with sound as it does to do with sense. Poetry, crucially, is an acoustic form. It’s emotional noise. That is why it’s often able to move us before we completely understand it. Its sounds allow us to receive it in our hearts, as well as in our heads.

It has always been my hope in setting up Poetry by Heart that we would give young people the opportunity to enjoy a wider range of poetry than they usually find in their preparation for exams.  We want to offer new ways of finding pleasure and confidence in a part of the curriculum where such things can be in short supply. The sort of pleasure and confidence, in fact, that adds tremendously to young people’s self-esteem, to their verbal skills, to their powers of communication, and so to a more fulfilled life and greater opportunities.  The competition is an end in itself, but it’s also a gateway, a beginning.

Poetry By Heart is designed to put the emphasis on learning by heart, not on learning by rote. It is about understanding and remembering the deep recurring truths about our experience as humans, in terms that are especially beautiful and resonant, It is about doing this in a pleasure-filled way. And it is part of the same benevolent revolution in poetry-proving and poetry-teaching that formed a part of the original intention in founding the Poetry Archive during my ten years as Poet Laureate.

Most of us have some recollection of being made to learn things when we were kids ourselves, and most of us can remember bits or all of those poems in our older age. This tells us several things, I think. It tells us how important it is to learn good stuff, so that our heads are full of nourishing words and not full of junk. It tells us this good stuff changes its meanings in very interesting ways as the years pass and the words stay in our memories. It tells us that despite or because of the effort involved in learning by heart, we as humans have a primitive appetite for it. It makes us feel good. It makes us find ourselves.

When Samuel Johnson was ruminating about the value of literature, he said it helped him ‘enjoy and endure’ his existence. Those two words form the foundation of our competition. We want it to be fun, as it encourages pupils to discover new pleasures and fulfilments, but we want it to be serious as well: an excitement and a dare. To demonstrate, in fact, the marvellous form of two-way travelling that poetry allows us: into ourselves, and out into the world, at one and the same time.

Student performances in all rounds of the competition must be judged and scored using these criteria. There are downloadable score sheets for competition organisers to use on the Competition Resources page of the Resources and Downloads section of this website.

Voice 1-7 points

This category is to evaluate the auditory nature of the recitation.  Consider the student’s volume, pace, rhythm, intonation and pronunciation.  In a strong performance, all words are pronounced appropriately in the student’s natural accent and the volume, rhythm and intonation greatly enhance the recitation.  Pacing is appropriate to the poem.

Understanding 1-7 points

This category is to evaluate whether the student exhibits an understanding of the poem is his or her recitation.  A strong performance relies on a powerful internalisation of the poem rather than distracting dramatic gestures.  In a strong performance, the sense of the poem is powerfully and clearly conveyed to the audience.  The student displays an interpretation that deepens and enlivens the poem.  Meanings, messages, allusions, irony, tones of voice and other nuances are captured by the performance.  A low score is awarded if the interpretation obscures the meaning of the poem or makes use of affected character voices and accents, inappropriate tone and inflection, singing, distracting and excessive gestures, or unnecessary emoting.

Performance 1-7 points

This category is to evaluate the overall success of the performance, the degree to which the recitation has become more than the sum of its parts.  Has the student captivated the audience with the language of the poem?  Did the student bring the audience to a better understanding of the poem?  Did the contestant’s physical presence enhance the recitation, engaging the audience through appropriate body language, confidence and eye contact?  Does the student understand and show mastery of the art of recitation?  The judges will use this score to measure how impressed they were by the recitation, and whether the recitation has honoured the poem.   A low score will be awarded for recitations that are poorly presented, ineffective in conveying the meaning of the poem, or conveyed in a manner inappropriate to the poem.

Accuracy 1-4 marks

A separate judge will mark missed or incorrect words during the recitation. Students will score a full 4 marks for a word-perfect recitation; 3 for a small number of errors which do not significantly affect meaning and/or flow; 2 for a recitation where the errors do affect meaning and/or flow; 1 for a recitation where occasional use is made of the prompter; 0 for a recitation which requires considerable prompting.


Additional considerations in the event of a close tie: variety, difficulty, diversity

In the event of a very close tie between two or more students, judges should consider the the level of challenge the student has chosen. This might be indicated in the variety of poems selected for recitation, with different styles, moods, language varieties, voices or settings. It might also be indicated by poem difficulty. A poem with difficult content conveys complex, sophisticated ideas, that the student will be challenged to grasp and express.  A poem with difficult language will have complexity of diction and syntax, metre and rhyme scheme, and shifts in tone or mood.  Poem length is also considered in difficulty but bear in mind that longer poems are not necessarily more difficult than shorter ones.  Judges may also consider the diversity of a student’s recitations with this score; a student is less likely to score well in this category when judges note that a student’s style of interpretation remains the same regardless of poem choice or challenge.

 New model for 2016-17!

Schools and colleges first hold a Poetry By Heart competition (as in previous years) and select a winner and runner-up using our judging criteria. Schools and colleges will receive information about how to set up, run and judge a great competition, as well as having our experienced team on hand by email, telephone and Skype for support, guidance and encouragement.

After the fun of the competition, the organising teacher or school librarian enters their winner and runner-up for the county phase of the contest. To do this, s/he arranges for these two students to be filmed reciting their poems and for the student videos to be uploaded to our secure uploader system. This replaces the ‘live’ and in-person county contests in previous years – no more clashes with parents’ evenings or long journeys out into dark, snowy February nights!

We want students to feel that they were able to submit their very best performance, not the one with the attendant pressure of the competition. However, the focus of the video should be the student’s recitation not fancy video production. These guidelines should help:

  • the uploaded video is to be shot in one take (ie not edited from multiple recordings), although the student can have as many goes as they like before selecting one video
  • the video is to be produced from a single fixed camera (no ‘artistic’ zooming or tracking, or cutting between angles)
  • the shot is to be a fixed knees-head shot so that all videos are comparable
  • the student is to be filmed against a plain background with no other sounds or visuals in shot

Our well established team of poets and educators will then judge the student videos and select a winner for each of 49 counties in England, plus one extra “wild card” winner. These 50 students will then be invited, supported by their teacher/librarian, to compete at the prestigious, exciting and fun regional and national finals event. First, county winners compete to become regional champion, and in the grand finale, the regional champions battle it out to take the national champion’s trophy home!

This is the complete list of poems in the timeline anthology for use in the school/college round of the contest. Students choose one pre-1914 poem and one post-1914 poem.

Instead of choosing a pre-1914 poem from this list students may choose to recite any Shakespeare sonnet (web showcase to launch in January 2017). Instead of choosing a post-1914 poem from this list students may choose to recite any poem from the First World War Poetry showcase on this website.

All school/college winners progressing to the regional/national phase of the competition must learn a THIRD poem. Their 3 poems must include poems from 3 different categories (pre-1914 timeline, post-1914 timeline, First World War showcase, Shakespeare sonnet) INCLUDING a Shakespeare sonnet.

  1. Beowulf poet Beowulf lines 736-789
  2. Gawain Poet Gawain and the Green Knight lines 713-739
  3. Geoffrey Chaucer The Wife of Bath’s portrait in The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales
  4. Anonymous I sing of a maiden
  5. Thomas Wyatt They flee from me that sometime did me seek
  6. Philip Sidney Song from Arcadia
  7. Christopher Marlowe In summer’s heat and mid-time of the day
  8. Chidiock Tichborne Tichborne’s elegy
  9. Walter Ralegh Walsingham
  10. Mary Sidney Herbert O
  11. Edmund Spenser Amoretti LV: so oft as I her beauty do behold
  12. William Shakespeare When that I was and a little tiny boy
  13. Robert Southwell The burning babe
  14. Ben Jonson Song to Celia
  15. George Herbert Love (III)
  16. John Donne The good morrow
  17. Richard Lovelace To Althea from prison
  18. Robert Herrick To the virgins, to make much of time
  19. Henry King An exequy to his matchless never to be forgotten friend lines 81-120
  20. Anne Bradstreet Verses upon the burning of our house
  21. John Milton Paradise lost book 1 lines 242-315
  22. Katherine Philips Epitaph
  23. Andrew Marvell Bermudas
  24. John Dryden A song for St Cecilia’s Day lines 1-47
  25. Aphra Behn A thousand martyrs
  26. John Wilmot The mistress
  27. Anne, Countess of Winchilsea Finch The hog, the sheep and the goat, carrying to a fair
  28. Alexander Pope Epistle to Miss Blount, on her leaving the town after the coronation
  29. Jonathan Swift A satirical elegy on the death of a late famous general
  30. Mary Leapor The visit
  31. Mary Wortley Montagu A receipt to cure the vapors
  32. Thomas Gray Elegy written in a country church yard lines 1-80
  33. Christopher Smart My cat, Jeoffry (from Jubilate Agno)
  34. Samuel Johnson On the death of Dr Robert Levet
  35. Charlotte Smith On being cautioned against walking on a headland
  36. William Cowper Epitaph on a hare
  37. Hannah More Slavery: a poem
  38. William Blake The chimney sweeper (when my mother died…)
  39. Joanna Baillie A mother to her waking infant
  40. Robert Burns Song: ae fond kiss, and then we sever
  41. Anna Laetitia Barbauld The rights of woman
  42. Robert Southey After Blenheim
  43. Mary Robinson Female fashions for 1799
  44. Anonymous The wife of Usher’s well
  45. Anonymous Lord Randall
  46. William Wordsworth The solitary reaper
  47. George Gordon, Lord Byron The destruction of Sennacherib
  48. Samuel Taylor Coleridge Kubla Khan
  49. Charles Wolfe The burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna
  50. Walter Scott Proud Maisie
  51. Percy Bysshe Shelley Ozymandias
  52. John Keats Ode to a nightingale
  53. Felicia Hemans Casabianca
  54. Thomas Love Peacock The war song of Dinas Vawr
  55. John Clare I found a ball of grass among the hay
  56. Robert Browning Porphyria’s lover
  57. Alfred, Lord Tennyson Ulysses
  58. Emily Bronte Remembrance
  59. Arthur Hugh Clough There is no God
  60. Elizabeth Barrett Browning Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV
  61. William Barnes My orcha’d in Linden Lea
  62. Frederick Tuckerman An upper chamber in a darkened house
  63. Adelaide Anne Proctor Envy
  64. Lewis Carroll You are old, father William
  65. Matthew Arnold Dover beach
  66. Walt Whitman Dirge for two veterans
  67. W.E. Henley Invictus
  68. Algernon Swinburne A forsaken garden lines 1-40
  69. Gerard Manley Hopkins Inversnaid
  70. George Meredith Lucifer in starlight
  71. Christina Rossetti A frog’s fate
  72. Emily Dickinson Snake
  73. Amy Levy Philosophy
  74. Robert Bridges London snow
  75. Thomas Hardy Thoughts of Phena
  76. Robert Louis Stevenson Sing me a song of a lad that is gone
  77. Mary Elizabeth Coleridge The witch
  78. Paul Dunbar Invitation to love
  79. Oscar Wilde The ballad of Reading gaol lines 1-36
  80. E. Nesbit The things that matter
  81. W.E.B. du Bois The song of the smoke
  82. Rudyard Kipling The way through the woods
  83. C.P. Cavafy The God abandons Antony
  84. Walter de la Mare Miss Loo
  85. G.K. Chesterton The rolling English road
  86. Amy Lowell A blockhead
  87. Ezra Pound The river merchant’s wife
  88. W.H. Davies The inquest
  89. Anna Wickham Divorce
  90. Robert Frost Out, out –
  91. Hilda Doolittle Sea rose
  92. Charlotte Mew Fame
  93. May Wedderburn Cannan Rouen
  94. Edward Thomas Lights out
  95. Ivor Gurney Strange hells
  96. Wilfred Owen The show
  97. WB Yeats The second coming
  98. A.E. Housman Tell me not here, it needs not saying
  99. Claude McKay Harlem shadows
  100. Edna St Vincent Millay I, being born a woman and distressed
  101. Hilaire Belloc Ha’nacker mill
  102. TS Eliot The journey of the Magi
  103. DH Lawrence Bavarian gentians
  104. Robert Graves Welsh incident
  105. Dylan Thomas The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
  106. Marianne Moore Poetry
  107. John Masefield Partridges
  108. Elizabeth Daryush Still life
  109. John Betjeman The arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel
  110. Louis MacNeice Bagpipe music
  111. William Empson Aubade
  112. W.H. Auden Musée des beaux arts
  113. Henry Reed Naming of parts
  114. Theodore Roethke My papa’s waltz
  115. Alun Lewis Goodbye
  116. Keith Douglas How to kill
  117. Edith Sitwell Heart and mind
  118. Elizabeth Bishop The fish
  119. Philip Larkin Mr Bleaney
  120. E.J. Scovell After midsummer
  121. Allen Ginsberg A supermarket in California
  122. Ted Hughes Wind
  123. Denise Levertov To the snake
  124. Robert Lowell Skunk hour
  125. Patrick Kavanagh Epic
  126. Sylvia Plath Morning song
  127. Thom Gunn Considering the snail
  128. Christopher Logue War music (excerpt from Patrocleia)
  129. R.S. Thomas On the farm
  130. Rosemary Tonks Badly chosen lover
  131. Frank O’Hara The day lady died
  132. John Berryman Dream Songs No 67: I don’t operate often
  133. Elma Mitchell Thoughts after Ruskin
  134. Basil Bunting What the chairman told Tom
  135. Charles Causley Ballad of the bread man
  136. Edwin Morgan Strawberries
  137. W.S. Graham The beast in the space
  138. Geoffrey Hill Mercian Hymns XXI
  139. Derek Walcott Sea canes
  140. Stevie Smith The galloping cat
  141. Michael Longley Wounds
  142. David Jones A, A, A, Domine Deus
  143. Derek Mahon A disused shed in County Wexford
  144. Yehuda Amichai My father in a white space suit
  145. Anne Stevenson A summer place
  146. Fleur Adcock The ex-queen among the astronomers
  147. Elizabeth Bartlett W.E.A. course
  148. Craig Raine A Martian sends a postcard home
  149. Linton Kwesi Johnson Sonny’s lettah
  150. Rita Dove Ö
  151. Carolyn Forché The colonel
  152. Tony Harrison Timer
  153. Peter Porter Your attention please
  154. Patricia Beer The lost woman
  155. Kit Wright The boys bump-starting the hearse
  156. James Fenton God, a poem
  157. David Dabydeen Catching crabs
  158. U.A. Fanthorpe The cleaner
  159. Wendy Cope Proverbial ballade
  160. Sujata Bhatt What is worth knowing?
  161. Gwendolyn Brooks Boy breaking glass
  162. Kathleen Jamie The way we live
  163. Paul Muldoon Meeting the British
  164. Gillian Clarke Border
  165. Carol Ann Duffy Originally
  166. Eavan Boland The black lace fan my mother gave me
  167. Maura Dooley Explaining magnetism
  168. Mimi Khalvati Rubaiyat
  169. Glyn Maxwell The eater
  170. Jo Shapcott Phrase book
  171. Lavinia Greenlaw Love from a foreign city
  172. Moniza Alvi The country at my shoulder
  173. Michael Hofmann Marvin Gaye
  174. Carol Rumens The emigrée
  175. Jackie Kay Dusting the phone
  176. Vicki Feaver Judith
  177. Roy Fisher Birmingham river
  178. James Berry On the afternoon train from Purley to Victoria, 1955
  179. Grace Nichols Blackout
  180. Seamus Heaney St Kevin and the blackbird
  181. Alice Oswald Wedding
  182. Imtiaz Dharker Minority
  183. Paul Farley A minute’s silence
  184. Jane Draycott Prince Rupert’s drop
  185. Denise Riley A misremembered lyric
  186. Michael Donaghy Machines
  187. Benjamin Zephaniah It’s work
  188. Sean O’Brien Cousin coat
  189. Ian Duhig The Lammas hireling
  190. Don Paterson Waking with Russell
  191. Michael Symmons Roberts Pelt
  192. Choman Hardi Two pages
  193. Colette Bryce The full Indian head trick
  194. Owen Sheers Mametz Wood
  195. Kamau Brathwaite Bread
  196. John Agard Toussaint L’Ouverture acknowledges Wordsworth’s sonnet “To Toussaint L’Ouverture”
  197. Jean Sprackland The stopped train
  198. E.A. Markham A verandah ceremony
  199. Daljit Nagra Look we have coming to Dover
  200. Mick Imlah Maren
  201. Patience Agbabi Josephine Baker finds herself
  202. Anthony Joseph Conductors of his mystery
  203. Jacob Sam-La Rose A life in dreams
  204. Simon Armitage The death of King Arthur lines 4209-4253
  205. Jacob Polley Langley Lane
  206. Andrew Motion The fish in Australia