Note: “Why Read Poetry” is part of an ongoing series. For more information visit the Mondays with Miss Mason page.
Poetry.––Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers. To know about such a poet and his works may be interesting, as it is to know about repoussé work; but in the latter case we must know how to use the tools before we get joy and service out of the art. Poetry, too, supplies us with tools for the modelling of our lives, and the use of these we must get at for ourselves. The line that strikes us as we read, that recurs, that we murmur over at odd moments––this is the line that influences our living, if it speak only––
“Of old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago.”
A couplet such as this, though it appear to carry no moral weight, instructs our conscience more effectually than many wise saws. As we ‘inwardly digest,’ reverence comes to us unawares, gentleness, a wistful tenderness towards the past, a sense of continuance, and of a part to play that shall not be loud and discordant, but of a piece with the whole. This is one of the ‘lessons never learned in schools’ which comes to each of us only as we discover it for ourselves.
Many have a favourite poet for a year or two, to be discarded for another and another. Some are happy enough to find the poet of their lifetime in Spenser, Wordsworth, Browning, for example; but, whether it be for a year or a life, let us mark as we read, let us learn and inwardly digest. Note how good this last word is. What we digest we assimilate, take into ourselves, so that it is part and parcel of us, and no longer separable.
Why Read Poetry?
I’ve already written about my favorite poetry books but I thought we could spend a moment thinking about “why read poetry?”
A lot of us may have grown up with less than wonderful examples of why we should appreciate poetry. A few rare ones may have been introduced to it by someone who truly loved it. The question we are asking today is why is poetry a part of a Charlotte Mason education.
As she says above “Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers.” It “supplies us with tools for
But wait . . . poetry is hard. Meter, alliteration, slant rhyme, symbolism. Yuck! For a student of poetry, that all can come later.
To begin — just read poems. Every day. Every week. Every month.
As you make poetry a part of daily life, the poems become a part of your education and also of you. Do you have certain lines that jump to mind? Do you have a feeling that you get when you read a beloved poem?
These should include a good deal of poetry, to accustom him to the delicate rendering of shades of meaning, and especially to make him aware that words are beautiful in themselves, that they are a source of pleasure, and are worthy of our honour. – from Vol. 1
Again, if [his school books] are too easy and too direct, if they tell him straight away what he is to think, he will read, but he will not appropriate. Just as a man has to eat a good dinner in order that his physical energies may be stimulated to select and secrete that small portion which is vital to him, so must the intellectual energies be stimulated to extract what the individual needs by a generous supply, and also by a way of presentation that is not obvious. We have the highest authority for the indirect method of teaching proper to literature, and especially to poetry.- from Vol. 6
On the Teaching of Poetry
Celeste Cruz has a wonderful article on the Afterthoughts blog detailing many more reasons WHY you should study poetry. I invite you to read it.
In it, Cruz references a Parents Review article by Mary A. Wood called “On the Teaching of Poetry” It is short but has several excellent points about the teaching of poetry but her final thoughts strike me most:
And this brings me to one last point. Will you bear with me if I touch on it? I have spoken of poetry as the language of feeling, as in turn the expression and suggestion of varied human emotion. But I cannot forget that it has expressed other things than these; that it has embodied, not grief and fear and love alone, but the aspiration, the devotion, the self-consecration that make up religion. It is good that our children should be stirred, even dimly, by emotions such as these, and learn to love and to echo the melodies that enshrine them. But I fear that the poetry of our Bibles, the fine prose-poems of our English paraphrase, have fared little better at our hands than other poetry. Here, too, we “murder to dissect.” We overlay them with comment and criticism and weary explanation, till the music and the passion die out of them, and nothing remains but barren prose–true, perhaps, for the intellect, but with no hold on the memory, no message to the heart. Would it not be well if–for the little ones, at least–we sometimes let Psalm, and Parable, and Song shine by their own light, and fulfil their own sweet office. The lessons thus taught are of the kind that strike home earliest and linger longest; they do what argument cannot do, and appeal to faculties more worth reaching than any that it can reach. For intuition is greater than reason, and love than knowledge.
Poetry is a lifelong gift to yourself and your children. Start giving it today!
How to Be a Poet
If you follow me on Facebook, you know I have been posting multiple poems a week. This was a favorite from this weekend about writing poetry:
How to Be a Poet
BY WENDELL BERRY
(to remind myself)
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
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