on memorizing poetry and an old-fashioned self-saucing baked butterscotch pudding

Nobody memorizes poetry anymore.

Once upon a time, it was de rigeur and scholars young and old memorized and recited astonishingly complicated, lengthy poems –The Highway Man, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Tennyson’s Ulysses, and Coleridge’s Kubla Khan… “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, A stately pleasure-dome decree….”

But rote learning has fallen out of favour – deemed unnecessary and old-fashioned in an era when we have instant access to almost everything and struggle to remember passwords instead of poetry. Still, the idea appeals to me. One of my resolutions for 2015 is to be able to recite a single poem by heart. By heart – rather than by rote. A small but important distinction.

So I started reading poetry. Trying to find something that I really loved, something that had some meaning to me. I also started reading about whether committing poetry to memory has any effect on the brain. There’s compelling evidence that memorizing prose improves neural plasticity – and helps train the brain to remember not just the particular poem or piece of prose but also to remember more in general – to improve both recall and memory capacity. And at the same time memorizing poetry is also a tool for staving off cognitive decline.

Committing poems to memory is a lost art – and not an easy task. It turns out that quite a lot has been written on this subject. There are entire books devoted to memorizing poetry. Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath’s husband and once England’s Poet Laureate, wrote a book entitled, By Heart: 101 Poems to Remember in which he explains how to memorize poems using a system that becomes easier the more frequently it is practiced.

Initially, I thought I’d learn something short and sweet. The Owl and the Pussy Cat or something by William Carlos Williams, or a poem by Philip Larkin that I came across in a book I was reading. My list grew longer daily. I considered The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, Jabberwocky, or a poem by Anne Carson.

But then I came across a story about retired American college professor,  John Basinger, who began memorizing Paradise Lost in 1993.  It took him eight years but he learned the entire thing by heart – 12 books, 10,565 lines and 60,000-odd words. The academic journal, Memory, tested his knowledge by giving him two lines selected at random from different places in the text. Each time he could recall the next ten lines.

Inspired, I upped my game and picked two poems. The first, Forgetfulness by American Poet Laureate Billy Collins, and the second, Valentine, by John Fuller. I couldn’t pick between them because I love them both – they make me smile. Read them – it’s a lot easier than memorizing them, trust me. And you won’t regret it.

I have my poems printed and stuck on the side of the refrigerator so I can read them while I’m cooking. Today, while I was baking this old-fashioned self-saucing butterscotch pudding (the perfect dish to go with an old-fashioned poetry memorizing session) I was re-reading stanzas and saying them aloud. According to everything I read, reading the poems aloud several times over is the first step.

My dog, Lola is wondering why I’m talking to myself.



Old-fashioned self-saucing baked butterscotch pudding

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This recipe is adapted from A Taste of Wintergreen

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (I used Bob’s Mill gluten-free baking flour mix)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup dark brown or turbinado sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter melted (I used lactose free margarine)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used coconut milk)
  • 1/2 tsp salt


  • 1/4 cup of Lyle’s Golden Syrup
  • 1  1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 tbsp butter melted (or lactose free margarine or coconut oil)

Mix together the sugar, salt, flour and baking powder. Melt the butter and add, along with the milk, to the flour mixture. Place mixture in a well-buttered ovenproof 2- litre dish. Or 4-6 buttered ramekins (number will depend on size of your ramekins).

In a separate bowl, combine sauce ingredients. Pour the sauce mixture over the top of the pudding over the back of an upturned spoon so that the sauce does not break the pudding apart.

Bake at 325º F for 40 minutes (25-30 minutes for ramekins) or until the pudding is golden brown and the centre of the pudding is firm. Let the pudding stand for five minutes.

The sauce will be at the bottom of the dish. Serve with whipped cream.



38 thoughts on “on memorizing poetry and an old-fashioned self-saucing baked butterscotch pudding

  1. Love you pudding and your sweet little doggie who is looking quite fetching in that lavender scarf. When I was in school we had to memorize poems, some longer than others and I loved doing it. It’s too bad it’s no longer “de rigeur” because its a wonderful way to become intimate with a poet and their work.

    1. My sweet little doggy turned 4 yesterday! I won’t be surprised if she has the poems memorized before me. I also had to memorize poems in school – one was Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. Biblical no less. In a public school! I still remember – and I also loved doing this. I remember reciting it as a class and being so proud.

    1. Thank you Judi! My dog is my sous chef. She makes an excellent taste tester and she approves of almost anything she is given! I will do my utmost to get over to the big bash at Angie’s this Friday! Will watch for you there. 😉

  2. “Oh the way they played together, was wonderful to see, the old, old woman and the boy with the twisted knee…” ( remember that one?)…or…”Slowly, silently now the moon, walks this way and that in her silver shoon….”.(From memory so I may have it wrong…the last one is Bliss Carman… I think!) I have difficulty remembering but love reading those poems.Oh I remember loving Sara Teasdale ( there is a sweet poem about holding a treasure in your hand)…must look some poetry of hers up in a fourth grade reader I have here on the shelf.
    Love the pudding….making it now this second! (using male syrup)….I also love the chocolate self basting one somewhere I my old cookbooks )

      1. I used some homemade maple syrup ( my cousin’s)…just a free style pour of it..just eyeballed a good glug of it…very rustic approach..ha..worked fine…very light…yummy warm…heated some up next day and my son liked it..he said it was like a warm gooey donought….oh the poetry… I love Robert Frost..”Stopping by woods on a snowy night”….lived it! I don’t reall itperfectly but I do remember snaches of it and enjoy reading the poetry again. I found poetry made a connection with some unlikely students of mine..those young kids you might think were not the type to be interested but given a chance with poetry they not only liked it but shared some incredible insights into their poetic souls.

      2. So glad you made this. I will have to give it a try with maple syrup too. Golden syrup is definitely very very thick – thicker than liquid honey so I can imagine there would be a difference. But the flavour of maple would be beautiful here, I imagine. Like the French Canadian pudding chomeur.
        Ah yes – Stopping by the woods on a snowy night. Such a wonderful poem – thank you for the beautiful reminder. xx

  3. Lol, you are too adorable, Lindy! I enjoy poetry myself, but to memorize one? Forget it! I can’t even remember what I wore a few days ago. I’m trying to rotate my clothes so that people don’t think I only own a few pieces, but I just can’t remember which one I’ve worn for which day and to where! Now, I really want to make this pudding of yours. What can I use in place of golden syrup? Can’t find it where I live! P.S. Lola looks so cute! And Lindy, I expect you at the anniversary party next week! Uh huh! 🙂

    1. Scandalous that you cannot find golden syrup! 😉
      I Googled to see what substitutes might work but it seems there are no real substitutes. I can buy it at my local grocery store but I also know that Walmart Canada has a British section in the grocery department and they carry it there – I wonder if they would in the USA? Otherwise – perhaps liquid honey – or perhaps maple syrup but you’d have to add cornflour to the boiling water, butter, syrup mixture because golden syrup is THICK and so fabulous.
      Will attempt to get my act in gear and make it to your one year anniversary bash. You’ve done an amazing job and I marvel at your energy!

  4. I don’t like memorizing. Maybe it is because the nuns made us memorize and entire chapter from the Bible over the weekend and write it down on Monday (we were graded on the punctuation too). 😦 Poetry is not my cup of tea either. However, baked butterscotch pudding is, and this one is very very delectable. Your doggy is so cute with the scarf around her neck. 🙂

    1. Thanks Fae, and I understand about not liking memorizing – it’s HARD work. And memorizing an entire chapter from the Bible would do me in! Sounds like you had a very rigorous education and had your lifetime fill of memorization work. Now you can relax and eat pudding! 😉

    1. Thanks Mandi – so funny because I also had a stack of ramekins that I never used. So I got rid of most of them in the last move and now find a million new uses for them routinely. Always the way isn’t it?!

  5. Lovely post, Lindy! Your butterscotch pudding looks delectable… I’m loving the idea of baked pudding, it’s intriguing and oh, so inviting. Yummy. 🙂

    1. Thanks Nancy – we ate a lot of baked puddings when I lived in England as a child and then later still when I moved to Australia but they aren’t a particularly North American thing, are they? Such a great winter dessert though. So easy – you can make the whole thing in the dish you serve it in. My kind of cooking. 😉

  6. Oh lindy! The pudding looks amazing. I like a good old fashioned pudding. Your kitchen is still gorgeous. And as for your goal…i love that you’re into memorizing poetry. As an English major I had to memorize the Canterbury Tales in their native old English and Beowulf. Total nerd. In my head I thought someone would think it was cool or romantic that I knew this stuff. I only vaguely remember memorizing it and having to recite it in front of the class. I opted for the tale of the Wife of Bath, which basically tells about the transformation of an old hag into a beautiful maid in old English. Horrifying. Sometimes I look back on my youth and feel bad for myself. LOL.N ow I’m a fan of EE Cummings and Rilke. And shakespeare… sigh.

    1. Amanda – I’m sure you were fabulous in your youth. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Nerds, after all, rule the earth! My blog autoloads to my Facebook page and you’d be surprised how many people messaged me about poetry they know and love. I also studied Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales in grade 13 English in high school. But we didn’t have to memorize – understanding them was enough trouble! And as for ee cummings – – LOVE! — “I carry your heart with me. I carry it in my heart… ” ❤

  7. John Betjeman’s poem ‘Hunter trials’ is the one and only poem I have ever managed to hold in my head. Maybe because I love it! Very much like your baked butterscotch pudding!

  8. Oh yes, pour water over it! It’s amazing how these puddings work. Well, with a chocolate pudding I used to make.
    Ah, most poetry alludes me. Apart from W.B, Yeats. I’m sure you’ll recognise this – once I copy it online 🙂 – as it’s probably his most famous. “I have spread my dreams under your feet.
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
    It’s the only poem I ever care to remember.
    Must make more pudding!

    1. Johnny – those two lines are all-time favourite lines of prose from any source. So beautiful and so true. I’m touched that you wrote them here. Nothing is more meaningful, at least to me.
      And, yes, the chocolate pudding – remember we had a whole spate of making that last year?

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