The Owl and the Pussycat voted most popular childhood poem

The Owl And The Pussycat

As National Poetry Day encourages Britain to embrace verse in everyday life, its favourite lines are revealed to be handed down through generations

A poll of the nation’s most beloved children’s poems reveals that the three most popular verses are each over 100 years old. The Owl and the Pussycat was voted number one, with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star coming second and Humpty Dumpty third.

Edward Lear’s poem narrating the love story of The Owl and the Pussycat was written in 1871 and is held to be the most popular by both the youngest and oldest age categories in the poll, highlighting how classic British poems continue to be passed down and cherished among successive generations.

The survey is released for National Poetry Day today, 2 October, as part of a campaign by Waitrose, the groceries arm of the John Lewis Partnership, to inspire people of all ages to enjoy poetry in their daily lives.

In May, Waitrose unleashed what was seen as an unlikely weapon in the supermarkets’ cut-throat battle for business when it announced plans to display poetry throughout its stores as part of a year-long campaign aimed at reducing the drudgery of the regular shop.

To encourage customers to try writing a poem for themselves, it has been holding a national poetry competition. Judged by poet and broadcaster Roger McGough, it attracted over 7,000 entries from across the country with participants ranging from three years old to 92.

The entries were whittled down to 24 shortlisted poems that each have the chance to make the final top three. The finalists are due to be announced today.

Roger McGough said: “My earliest memories of poetry are of listening to nursery rhymes like Who Killed Cock Robin? and speaking them aloud with my mother. This interesting poll confirms the importance of learning and reciting verse at an early age. But we need a new generation of young poets to write the poems that will inspire future generations.

“I hope that the people who’ve entered this competition will carry on writing, not necessarily to win competitions or for fame and fortune, but to express themselves. If they’ve been given the gift of being able to put words together and make people smile then keep on doing it.”

The 2,000 participants surveyed in the poll, commissioned by OnePoll, also listed children’s favourite Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. Popular nursery rhymes such as The Grand Old Duke of York, Jack and Jill and Hickory Dickory Dock also made the top 10 listing.

Waitrose is also backing National Poetry Day’s #thinkofapoem challenge, inviting everyone to join the nation’s biggest celebration of poetry by tweeting a poem they love and want to pass on. The overall winner is 65-year old Sue Fletcher of Brighton, who has scooped first place with her poem Face on a Plate, in which she draws comparisons between fresh produce and facial features.

Susannah Herbert, director of the Forward Arts Foundation, which runs National Poetry Day, said: “Poetry learnt in childhood clearly enters the bloodstream and stays with you forever. It comes alive when shared and passed on, from generation to generation and between friends. By encouraging shoppers to think of a poem as they pick up a cucumber or a cake, Waitrose feeds the nation’s appetite for poetry with wit and humour.”

The Top Ten Poems from Childhood

1. The Owl & the Pussycat by Edward Lear (1871)

2. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Jane Taylor (1806)

3. Humpty Dumpty – Anonymous (1797)

4. Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (1872)

5. Daffodils (I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud) by William Wordsworth (1804)

6. A Visit from St. Nicholas (‘Twas the night before Christmas) by Clement Clarke Moore (1823)

7. Poor Old Lady - Anonymous

8. The Grand Old Duke of York - Anonymous (1642)

9. Jack and Jill - Anonymous (1765)

10. Hickory Dickory Dock - Anonymous (1744)

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rebecca Smithers, for theguardian.com on Thursday 2nd October 2014 07.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010