Eight in ten Britons are unable to recite a single verse of poetry, a study has revealed.
Just 18 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds know any poems, and only 42 per cent of children study poetry at primary or secondary school.
Nearly three quarters (72 per cent) admit they are too baffled and daunted by the language to even try reading it, while 41 per cent cannot name a single living poet.
The over-60s fare significantly better, however, with 72 per cent able to deliver verses they learned as children. Sixty-three per cent can remember entire poems such as Edward Lear's The Owl And The Pussycat.
The survey of 1,500 adults was carried out to coincide with the airing of the BBC2 documentary Off By Heart tonight, which features the first national poetry recital competition for primary school children.
Competitors from 1,500 schools recited verses at regional heats, with 12 finalists going on to perform at the Oxford Literary Festival last month in front of judges including poet Benjamin Zephaniah.
Daisy Goodwin, TV presenter and editor of several poetry anthologies including the bestseller 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life, said the apparent decline of poetry was 'lamentable'.
She said: 'It is such a shame that so few people know any poetry, just because it has become unfashionable to teach it in school.
'Poetry has great practical uses - as a great way for children to increase their vocabulary and confidence to speak, but it also gives them great pleasure.'
Memole Says: I am certainly able to recite single verses by heart: "Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo colle" (Leopardi) , "Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare / la donna mia quand'ella altrui saluta" (Dante), "Nè più mai toccherò le sacre sponde / ove il mio corpo fanciulletto giacque" (Foscolo), but maybe because of my bad memory I can't seem to remember full poems, not even sonnets. I mix up the verses, I think I remember a full stanza, but then I realize I'm mixing the first and the second stanza.
Living poets, I can name a few: Andrea Zanzotto, Carol Ann Duffy, Derek Walcott, Yves Bonnefoy...
I did learn poems by heart at school, but not many. I've been told that in the UK children in primary and secondary schools don't learn poems anymore. I don't know what's the situation like in Italy among younger generations, but if it's like Britain it's worrying and sad.
By the way, I discovered a wonderful literature blog: http://www.bookslut.com/