Revealed: Pupils' top 25 poems to recite

10th June 2015 at 14:42

Teenagers have chosen a Victorian poem about finding the personal strength to overcome tragedy as their most popular option in a national poetry recital competition.

Invictus by W E Henley, which ends with the lines, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul", was the most popular poem from the Poetry By Heart competition’s pre-1914 anthology and overall.

The poem has recently become associated with Nelson Mandela, who recited it for inspiration while being held in prison for fighting apartheid. 

The most popular post-1914 poem was It’s Work by Benjamin Zephaniah, a poem about being a poet. And the most popular First World War poem was The Stretcher Bearer by Tommy Crawford.

The Poetry By Heart competition was launched in autumn 2012 for students aged 14 to 18. In the first round of in-school competitions, each student must recite two poems: one from before 1914 and after 1914.

The winner of each school competition then goes through to a county contest, when they must learn a third poem. There will be 35 county contests in the 2015/16 competition and the winner of each county contest is invited to the winners’ weekend, when they progress through a regional stage and then the grand final.

The most popular poem figures are compiled from the poems read by the winner and runner-up at school level, then all the poems at county and regional level. Since its launch, an estimated 10,000 students have been involved.

Pre 1914 Collection Top 10 Choices

1)      Invictus  W.E. Henley  

2)      Envy Adelaide Anne Procter

3)      Ozymandias Percy Bysshe Shelley

4)      The Ballad of Reading Gaol  Oscar Wilde

5)      The Witch Mary Elizabeth Coleridge

6)      The Way Through the Woods Rudyard Kipling

7)      Epitaph Katherine Philips

8)      Porphyria’s Lover Robert Browning

9)      Paradise Lost John Milton

10)   There is no God Arthur Hugh Clough

Post 1914 Collection Top 10 Choices

1)      It’s Work Benjamin Zephaniah

2)      God, a Poem James Fenton

3)      Lights Out Edward Thomas

4)      Badly Chosen Lover Rosemary Tonks

5)      A Life in Dreams Jacob Sam-La Rose

6)      Wedding Alice Oswald

7)      How to Kill Keith Douglas

8)      Dusting the Phone Jackie Kay

9)      Josephine Baker Finds Herself Patience Agbabi

10)   Minority Imtiaz Dharker

First World War Choices

1)      The Stretcher Bearer Tommy Crawford

2)      The Soldier Rupert Brooke

3)      The Death-Bed Siegfried Sassoon

4)      There Will Come Soft Rains Sara Teasdale

5)      For the Fallen Laurence Binyon


The competition has just been launched again for 2016 and schools can register here.


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