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A Toddler Recites Great Poems From Memory

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The most popular reader of poetry on the internet is probably a three-year-old. YouTube sensation Samuel Chelpka began speaking at the age of one, and after his parents realized he'd gone and memorized "Green Eggs and Ham" (kid's stuff!), they started reading some of their favorite poems to him instead.

Samuel's mother told ABC News' "The Conversation" that Samuel immediately took a strange interest in a recording of Billy Collins' poem "Litany":

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

"He listened to it over and over again ... and one day, I thought, 'I wonder if he knows this?' And I asked him, and he recited the whole thing. I was pretty surprised at that." They posted the adorable result on YouTube, which you can watch here.

The Chelpka's have since added a recording of Samuel reading another of Collins' poems, "Walking Across the Atlantic," to his stuffed dolphin, and a clip of him reading Alfred Lord Tennyson's "The Eagle" in his superman underoos, which, coincidentally, is how Tennyson used to perform it.

While Samuel is unquestionably gifted, his talent helps to remind us why poetry has such a strong oral tradition. When the Ancient Greeks wanted to pass down their stories orally, they did so in verse, in part, because employing rhythm and rhyme helped make the stories easier to remember. You can see that while Samuel doesn't understand all of the words in the poems he's reading, he clearly enjoys their rhythms and alliteration. Listen to the way he recites "He clasps the crag with crooked hands." I'm guessing that music is what caught Samuel's ear in listening to Collins' "Litany," and that music helps him remember a poem's content.

I'm a little worried that Samuel's popularity will spark some cheeky parents to try training their poor toddler to take on Hart Crane's "The Bridge" or Milton's "Paradise Lost." To them I would only say this: my two-year-old niece, Kelsey--whom I'm spending the weekend with--has "The Wheels on the Bus" down cold ...with choreography. So bring it!

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