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Poetry for Jr High competition
Posted by: MikeSCAPA (
Date: September 22, 2003 09:30PM

Hello. My daughter competes on a Jr High speech team. She was very sucessful last year with Seuss' "Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose". She won 2nd in the state. However, she has been told that she MUST perform a serious piece to win 1st this year. We are looking for the PERFECT piece. It must be between 6 and 10 minutes.

ANY SUGGESTIONS are invited.

Re: Poetry for Jr High competition
Posted by: -Les- (
Date: September 22, 2003 09:38PM

Here's my nomination:

The Garden of Prosperine
Algernon Charles Swinburne

Here, where the world is quiet;
Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest time and mowing,
A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow to reap;
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.

Here life has death for neighbor,
And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labor,
Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
And no such things grow here.

No growth of moor or coppice,
No heather flower or vine,
But bloomless buds of poppies,
Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes,
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
For dead men deadly wine.

Pale, without name or number,
In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
Comes out of darkness morn.

Though one were strong as seven,
He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
In the end it is not well.

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love's who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
From many times and lands.

She waits for each and other,
She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
And flowers are put to scorn.

There go the loves that wither,
The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
Red strays of ruined springs.

We are not sure of sorrow,
And joy was never sure;
Today will die tomorrow;
Time stoops to no man's lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
In an eternal night.


Re: Poetry for Jr High competition
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: September 23, 2003 11:05AM

Prolly not long enough. Let's say she is speaking at 150 words per minute. That means some 900 to 1500 words - a lot!

We were just talking about Oscar Wilde. Perhaps a portion of his Ballad of Reading Gaol?

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The whole thing is probably some 8,000 words, so too long. Browning's Rabbi Ben Ezra, mebbe?

Re: Poetry for Jr High competition
Posted by: Talia (216.117.99.---)
Date: September 23, 2003 11:08AM

"Renaissance" by Edna St. Vincent Millay. She was a young girl when she wrote it, it made her famous, and is still her best-known work might be good luck for your daughter.

Re: Poetry for Jr High competition
Posted by: Marian-NYC (12.154.236.---)
Date: September 23, 2003 11:36AM

There are fabulous stories-in-verse in the Bible, though you may want to avoid them if you think they would trigger "issues" in your school district. b Jonah... Samuel (conception through "call") ... Esther... Ruth... and there are lots of different English-language versions.

BEOWULF is out in several modern English versions.

Longfellow's EVANGELINE is a (short) book-length tale of romance. It was over-exposed in your grandmother's days but probably would be "new" to your daughter's circle. And it's all about a GIRL searching the world over for her beloved.

There are quite a few verse translations of Homer (ILIAD and ODYSSEY), including one by Andrew Lang (read an exceprt at []) ... and bear in mind that Homer's epics were WRITTEN TO BE PERFORMED by a single reader.


You said it has to be SERIOUS. You didn't say it has to be CLASSIC or even old.

Vikram Seth's novel GOLDEN GATE is written entirely in verse. I haven't read it, but according to a bookseller: "Can 690 sonnets, rhyming a-b-a-b-c-c-d-d-e-f-f-e-g-g, be a novel? Definitely! First published in 1986 and still fresh (the sole sign of its publication date being the frequent use of the word yuppie), Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate will turn the verse-fearing into admiring acolytes."

Pushkin's EUGENE ONEGIN is a love story in verse, many English versions available.

Another one I know nothing about: "Stop Pretending (or) What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy" (2002) by Sones, Sonya - "a dazzling novel-in-verse evoking an ordinary teenager's shattered world with powerful intensity."

Do a net search for "novel in verse" and you'll find more.

Re: Poetry for Jr High competition
Posted by: Marian-NYC (12.154.236.---)
Date: September 23, 2003 01:35PM

And please let us know what she ends up choosing!

Re: Poetry for Jr High competition
Posted by: IanB (
Date: September 24, 2003 09:09AM

When is this event taking place Mike?

Is your daughter required to recite from memory, or can she read whatever piece she picks?

Re: Poetry for Jr High competition
Posted by: IanB (
Date: September 24, 2003 10:31AM

Here's an American classic that will take her a little over 6 minutes if she doesn't rush it, and (if there are bonus points for degree of difficulty) could win her 1st prize if she does it really well:

The Deacon's Masterpiece
(a logical story)

by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it -- ah, but stay,
I'll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits, --
Have you ever heard of that, I say?

Seventeen hundred and fifty-five.
Georgius Secundus was then alive, --
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock's army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.

Now in building of chaises, I tell you what,
There is always somewhere a weakest spot, --
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In panel, or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace, -- lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will, --
Above or below, or within or without, --
And that's the reason, beyond a doubt,
A chaise breaks down, but does n't wear out.

But the Deacon swore (as Deacons do,
With an "I dew vum," or an "I tell yeou")
He would build one shay to beat the taown
'N' the keounty 'n' all the kentry raoun';
It should be so built that it could n' break daown:
"Fur," said the Deacon, "'t 's mighty plain
Thut the weakes' place mus' stan' the strain;
'N' the way t' fix it, uz I maintain,
Is only jest
T' make that place uz strong uz the rest."

So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That could n't be split nor bent nor broke, --
That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thills;
The crossbars were ash, from the straightest trees,
The panels of white-wood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;
The hubs of logs from the "Settler's ellum," --
Last of its timber, -- they could n't sell 'em,
Never an axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips,
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Thoroughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he "put her through."
"There!" said the Deacon, "naow she'll dew!"

Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and deaconess dropped away,
Children and grandchildren -- where were they?
But there stood the stout old one-hoss shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day!

Eighteen Hundredt; -- it came and found
The Deacon's masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hundred increased by ten; --
"Hahnsum kerridge" they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came; --
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arrive,
And then come fifty, and FIFTY-FIVE.

Little of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundreth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there's nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it. -- You're welcome. -- No extra charge.)

FIRST OF NOVEMBER, -- the Earthquake-day, --
There are traces of age in the one-hoss shay,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There could n't be, -- for the Deacon's art
Had made it so like in every part
That there was n't a chance for one to start.
For the wheels were just as strong as the thills,
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floor,
And the whipple-tree neither less nor more,
And the back crossbar as strong as the fore,
And spring and axle and hub encore.
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out!

First of November, 'Fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys, get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-horse shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
"Huddup!" said the parson. -- Off went they.
The parson was working his Sunday's text, --
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the -- Moses -- was coming next.
All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet'n'-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill, --
And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half past nine by the meet'n-house clock, --
Just the hour of the Earthquake shock!
What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you're not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once, --
All at once, and nothing first, --
Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.
Logic is logic. That's all I say.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The biggest challenges are to adjujst the pace a little from stanza to stanza so as to reflect the narrative, and to do a good accent for the Deacon, and especially (if it has to be recitation from memory) to remember in the right order and without hesitation the various shay parts referred to in stanzas 3, 5 and 9. There are tricks, such as word association, for remembering lists. One way is to visualise where the parts are on the one-hoss-shay and to think of the verse as being a sort of guided tour, e.g. in stanza 9 starting on the ground with the wheels, then moving up to the floor, then to the side panels, and so on.

There's a nice illustration of a one horse shay at:

You can also see a copy of the poem as published with the original illustrations at:

Re: Poetry for Jr High competition
Posted by: IanB (
Date: September 24, 2003 11:05AM

Another good one for recitation, of the length you are looking for, is Robert Browning's 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin' (in the Classical Poet List on this site).

I prefer to leave out the last four lines, which are feeble compared to the rest of the poem and an unnecessary coda after what's just the right line to end on; but for purposes of the competition you'd need to be sure that marks wouldn't be deducted for that omission.

Re: Poetry for Jr High competition
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: September 24, 2003 12:02PM

IanB's posting reminded me that THE GOBLIN MARKET might work - if it's long enough.

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