(This was originally published in the book "Charlotte Mason Philosophy: Creating a Happy Home Atmosphere" compiled by Chris M. Peterson. I was honored by Chris in being invited to write about something so close to my heart.
by Marqueta Jonas Graham
“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem,
see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable
-Johann Wolfgang van Goethe
In our hurried, “entertain me” world, we might question the need for poetry studies in the education of our children. Why should they be exposed to it? What are the lasting benefits, if any? It is my wish to present a case for the daily indulgence in poems, and to share how I have personally used them to enrich my own life.
Poetry as our grandparents knew it has, with the emergence of movies and television, declined greatly in popularity. It is no longer considered by “educators” as a very important part of education, and hence is given lip service and perhaps a portion of one semester in literature class. The enjoyment of poetry must, therefore, as with many of the fine arts, be preserved within our families, if it is to be preserved at all.
When considering the usefulness of poetry, as well its role in the home school, I believe one must resolve to make it a joyous part of daily life, or not use it at all. If poetry must be forced upon children to fulfill certain curriculum requirements, it will do more damage than good. I can recall at an early age being quickly bored in English classes in which poems were as brutally dissected as the frogs in Biology, and were about as lifeless. Fortunately, I knew the real way of enjoying poems, as I was blessed to have a mother who could recite such gems as “The Road To Raffydiddle”, “Out To Old Aunt Mary’s”, and “The Pied Piper of Hamblin”. This is a gift which we all can bestow upon our children, simply by reciting or reading many kinds of poems, from a young age.
I was born into a family whose love for poetry was part of each day’s experience. There was no need for formal training, any more than there was need for formal training in the loving of our many pets. It just came naturally. My grandmother, who was my sole babysitter, loved reciting and writing it. My father wrote western-flavored poems and ballads, giving us an early appreciation for the history of the west. My eldest brother writes deep, sometimes hard to understand poems, while my youngest brother pours out sadness and regret through his pen. My middle brother carries on the cowboy poetry tradition, while my sister writes poems dealing with people and memories, much like my grandmother’s. Although my mother does not write poetry, she loves reading and reciting it, and one of my most valued books is one of children’s poetry which she hand-typed from an old copy her mother had as a child.
When I became a parent, I instinctively shared poems when my young ones, Mother Goose as well as other treasured favorites. When the moon was spied through a window, it was natural to say, “I see the moon, and the moon sees me, God bless the moon, and God bless me!”, until my little daughters could say it themselves. When toweling off the girls after bath time, we would all say together, “After a bath I try, try, try, to wipe myself till I’m dry, dry, dry. Just think how much less time I’d take, if I were a dog, and could shake, shake, shake!”. What glorious fun it was when we obtained a puppy and they could see how a dog indeed does shake, shake, shake! And when we moved into our first real home, it was also natural to inscribe on the front door Christopher Morley’s “Song for a Small House” (I’m glad our house is a little house, not to tall or too wide. I’m glad the hovering butterflies feel free to come inside...). A recent popular poem is “Which Loved Best?”, by Joy Allison (“I love you, Mother”, said little John, Then forgetting his work, his cap went on, and off he ran to the garden swing, leaving his mother the wood to bring....). This poem does wonders in reminding of the children of their responsibilities!
Poems are the happy companions of the Nature Journal, preventing it from becoming dull and spiritless. If you are familiar with Edith Holden’s Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, you will understand what I mean. Her well-chosen poems make us feel more fully the changes in he seasons, and balance the scientific nomenclature of birds and plants.
Poems provide a connection with the great souls of the world, many who have passed on hundreds of years previously, in a way similar to great music connects us to the great composers. Poems are fluid, much as music is, and can evoke deep emotional responses. When just the right words are needed, usually a poem can be found to fit the bill. Poems share our joys and soothe the soul, depending on our need. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it so eloquently in his poem “The Day is Done”:
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old master,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time,
For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
And tonight I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids starts;
Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
I must admit I harbor fantasies of happily doing needlework as the children play quietly on the floor and my husband reads Shakespeare by the fire!
Although it is not necessary to write poetry to enjoy it, I have found that it does increase an understanding of the process which the great poets employ in their craft.
For me, being of a rather shy nature, writing my feelings has always been easier than speaking them. Throughout my teenage years, countless heartrending sonnets were written by me for boys who hadn’t a clue of my affections. Now, as a mother, I write occasional poems for my daughters and husband, and others concerning the simple life. The following is an example of the latter:
Just a Few Days
Just a few days,
That’s all there is left.
A few days of clear golden skies,
Of naked children in cool water,
Of sun-tanned skin,
and sun-kissed hair.
Just a few days linger before
woolens replace sandals and bare feet,
Before leaves begin to fall,
Before the warm sun on the backs
of our necks is a memory;
While we harvest summer’s bounteous pleasures,
Then bid them goodbye until next year.
Poetry is not, perhaps, necessary in the same way that the “Three R’s” are necessary, but it is necessary in the same way that music is necessary. Amid the desolate wasteland of radio jingles and television sitcoms, isn’t it wonderful to refresh one’s mind in an oasis of beautiful words? Poetry fills the void left by our Humanist society, for it connects us to the Great Mind who inspires all that is good and worthy. Let it into your life, and the life of your children, and you will find it a most welcome guest.