How to Memorize Verses

A Clever Way to Memorize Lines of
Poems, Bible Scripture, Quotes & Speeches

The following article is a transcription of a talk given by two-time USA Memory Champion, Ron White. And trust me, when Ron White talks about memory, everybody listens ;-)

If he uses any terms that don't quite make sense, it's because this is actually a small part of a bigger program. If you want to understand the ins and outs of the full memory system I recommend you start with this in-depth review I put together when I worked through it myself a little while ago. — Word Buff

If you want to memorize a poem -- whether it be a 20, 30, 40, 50 line poem -- you'll learn how to do that. You know, a lot of scripture is poetry -- like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. And I'm going to show you how to memorize part of quote by Teddy Roosevelt using this system too.

If you're a public speaker, you know memorizing poems and quotes is a great skill to add into your speech, or if you're a fan of poetry and you want to know poems by heart, or maybe your faith is important to you so you want to memorize verses of the bible. This system will enable you to recall something word for word.

Although this technique can be used to memorize a famous speech, it is different to the task of giving a speech without notes, because when you want to give a speech, you're just kinda using the bullet points, main ideas, and getting in front of the room and talking. We'll cover speeches without notes in another session.

This memory technique is for literally memorizing something word for word.

In order to to this, we need to understand the basics of memory. We always start all our programs off covering this because we never know at what point you're going to jump into the program, so if you've seen this part I'll jump through real quick and if you're not, this is going to be a good lesson for you.

The basics of memory: there are five keys in our memory system that we teach. The first one is focus. You focus your mind by good nutrition and exercise, you focus it by foods you eat, whether it be spinach and blueberries that have antioxidants, or omega three fish oil pills.

Focus is crucial to your memory, so just treat your body good and you'll be treating your mind good and you're ability to focus. Also get lots of sleep -- you know what, I always tell people, if you want to have a good memory, it's good to get 20-21 hours of sleep a day and I mean that seriously. Actually I don't, I'm totally joking, but you know, get a good 8 hours sleep and that's gonna help your focus.

Files: a place to store the data. If you've run through the programs before, this is going to be your house files, the journey method, and if you have not run through our memory program before, I'm going to explain that to you.

Picture: turn numbers into pictures. It says numbers here but it's anything. You're going to have to turn the words in the speech, the words in the poem, or the words in the verse into a picture.

If you want to memorize the line “To be or not to be, that is the question”, well that is so abstract. “To be or not to be, that is the question” -- what does that look like? Well it doesn't look like anything, it's abstract, so you have to turn it into a picture.

You might see two bees and a question mark “to be.” And then maybe you see another bee, or two bees and then two more bees and these two bees have the circle with the line drawn through them like 'not', so “to be or not to be”, and then a big question mark above it.

You're turning that verse into a picture and that's crucial for memorizing a verse.

Action: make the pictures active. Have those bees buzzing all around not just sitting still, and then going back and review is really crucial.

Okay, the journey method: if you have not heard me describe the journey method, what I'm going to recommend right now is that you go to one of our other programs on how to do speeches without notes or how to memorize playing cards, and in there I describe this journey method, but you're going to need to get this journey method mastered and a really place to master that is one of those programs.

Basically, essentially, what you're going to do with the journey method is number pieces of furniture in your home, you'll number pieces of furniture in your house. So you take one room in your house and you number the pieces of furniture: bed, desk, television, lamp, chair.

And then, after you have these numbers you move into the next room. The next room would be 6,7,8,9, 10 - pick five pieces of furniture that really catch your eye in that room, big pieces of furniture not small pieces of furniture and number them 6-10. The next one, number some pieces of furniture in the next room 11-15, the next one 16-20.

Number 20 pieces of furniture in your house, get to the point where you can say it forwards and backwards, you can say what number 8 is without thinking about it, you can say where number nine is without thinking about it. Number 20 pieces of furniture in your home and get real familiar with these and these are actually going to be files when you store data.

Now, let's take this quote by the 26th president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt. The quote says this:

It is not the critic who counts not the man who points out how strong the man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings, but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. — Teddy Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States.

Now, how did he do it? How did he memorize this poem? You break it down by line or by thought. You get to turn these into a picture. So you take the first segment. “It is not the critic who counts”.

I visualize two movie critics, Siskel and Ebert, counting on their fingers. On my first piece of furniture in my living room, my first file in my living room is my television set, so sitting on my television set, I see Siskel and Ebert the movie critics and they're counting.

The segment that I'm wanting to remember is “it is not the critic who counts”. My next piece of furniture, on that one, I see Arnold Schwarzenegger tripping and I'm pointing to him. The word there is “nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled”. Arnold Schwarzenegger is obviously a very strong man.

The next one, “or where the doer of deeds could have done better”. I turned that into a picture and I used butter. 'Of deeds' - I used a deed, like a deed to a house or property. So, “where the doer of deeds could have done better”, I visualized myself putting butter on a deed to memorize this phrase.

And then I go back after I've done this and I review...

  • “It's not the critic who counts” — Siskel and Ebert counting up my files
  • “nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled” — pointing to Arnold Schwarzenegger tripping,
  • “or the doer of deeds could have done better” — putting butter on a deed.

“But the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena” — on this one I put a man in an arena and I handed him credit cards. So you're giving credit to a man in the arena. The line is “the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” Focus on that and make it vivid and see it really vividly on your file.

And the next one “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood” — on this one I see a face with dust and sweat and blood and I see it real vividly and clearly.

Now, I go back and I review this.

  • On your first file, whatever it is, you see Siskel and Ebert counting, “It is not the critic counts”
  • the next one, Arnold Schwarzenegger counting, “nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled”
  • on the next one, butter on a deed, “or the doer of deeds could have done better”,
  • the next one, the credit cards in an arena, “the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena”,
  • the next one, the face with dust, sweat, and blood, “whose face is marred by dust, sweat, and blood.”

Review: don't try to memorize it word for word, just the main points. Read through it once or twice and you'll get a feel for the words and your mind will fill in the gaps.

In other words, whenever you're creating these pictures, you're not turning every single word into a picture. Here, I didn't turn 'marred' into a picture. I didn't turn 'by' into a picture, I just turned the key words: 'face, dust, sweat, blood' into a picture.

If you just use the key words, turn those into pictures and create a little bitty miniature story there and visualize that story on pieces of furniture in your house, your mind will fill in the gaps.

Now here's the deal, if you're memorizing a poem or you're memorizing a verse out of the Bible, or you're memorizing a play's lines, your mind will not fill in the gaps if you're not familiar with the text. So what you have to do is you have to read the text.

You have to read the poem, you have to read the verses, you have to read the quote, one or two or three times before you even start using your files and your pictures because your mind won't fill in the gaps if you're not familiar with it.

After you get familiar with it, turn it into pictures and your mind will fill in the gaps with just simple pictures. This is the effective way to memorize scripture, a poem, a quote, or chapters of books, or whatever you want, word for word. It takes a little practice, but it's the same old “focus, file, picture, action, and review”.

Use pieces of furniture in your house, memorize poems. I challenge you right now to go get your favorite poem, go get your favorite presidential quote, and then memorize it this way. Remember that you're gonna use pieces of furniture in your house, you're gonna take the quote and you're gonna do it thought by thought.

  • See, here's where the semi-colon is, everything before this semi-colon goes on the file.
  • See, here's where the comma is, everything before this comma goes on the number two file.
  • Here's the period, everything before this period goes on the next file.
  • Here's the next comma...
so it's by segment.

It doesn't have to be commas and semi-colons where you stop, but that's normally where the thought stops so it's a good idea for that. It's a good way to do that.

I would encourage you to practice this. You're going to need maybe 20 files for a 20 line poem, you're gonna need, you know, 25 files for a 25 line poem. But, this is a great method.

Practice it, practice it, practice it, and memorize your favorite verses, poems, quotes, passages or speeches. — Ron White

Again, I'd like to emphasize that if any of the concepts in this talk didn't make sense, it's because this is actually a small part of a bigger program. If you want to understand the ins and outs of the full memory system I recommend you start with my in-depth review.

Alternatively, if you're in a real hurry to master this method, you can download the full program right now from Ron's website! — Word Buff

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This Is Two Time
USA Memory Champion
Ron White


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