Just in time for National Poetry Month, Penguin has teamed up with app developer inkle to bring you a high-tech, enjoyable way to memorize classic poetry. Poems By Heart from Penguin Classics, released this past week, features impressive artwork, smart design and solid voice recordings.
The free version of the app, available for both iPad and iPhone, comes with two short poems: William Shakespeare's ubiquitous sonnet, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day," and William Blake's awesome little poem "Eternity":
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.
The app works by moving line by line and prompting you to fill in missing words. It repeats this process over five iterations, each more difficult than the last, until you have the poem down, making you feel like a scholar. As one reviewer named Bibbowski put it, "I sure FEEL smarter having used it." So did I, Bibbowksi.
But don't get too cocky. Once you've mastered a poem, you're prompted to recite it by heart. A little recording studio pops up and everything. I screwed this up King's Speech style the first time. Thankfully, the app gives you a chance to redeem yourself. In a neat twist, it also adds your reading to its library, allowing you to choose your own reading over the default voices when you pull up the poem again. You should do this, because you are the Laurence Olivier of your living room. Then you should email your reading to Penguin for a chance to win $500 worth of Penguin poetry titles (seriously).
The good news dwindles from here on, though. Once you've mastered the Shakespeare and Blake lyrics, you'll want more poetry and you'll have pay for it. The app currently sells seven bundles of four poems for 99 cents apiece. You can choose from among the Early Innovators, Adventures, Gothic Tales, Romantic, Love, Odes and Elizabethan bundles. If you're thinking, "How do I choose between Romantic and Love?" you were not an English major and you should pick Love. The Odes bundle (my favorite) nets you Wallace Stevens' "Anecdote of the Jar," John Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale," Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (lengthy!) and Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind."
O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being--
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes!--O thou
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill--
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere--
Destroyer and Preserver--hear, O hear!
Can't you already hear yourself yelling these words from your iPhone!? The steep in-app pricing aside, it's the best poetry app I've seen in a while. Give the free version a download and get to memorizing.