When Poetry Resonates
I wanted to help my kids become adults who enjoyed and understood poetry but I did not know where to begin. I struggled at times to enjoy it because I often had to read even a simple poem several times before comprehending it. It intimidated me. The nice part of homeschooling is that for subjects that intimidate you . . . you can grow along with your child. You start at the very basics and Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, A Child’s Garden of Verses came highly recommended as a first entry into poetry.
This is an affiliate link for the version we have. I love the illustrations, but it is not a sturdy version. I had to purchase a second book because the pages fell out of our first one.
The first poem in A Child’s Book of Verses is Bed in Summer. After reading it with my daughter, Anna, who was then 7, I didn’t really understand it and was going to read it again when Anna quietly sighed, “That’s how I feel.”
One.time.through . . . she knew what it meant. I asked her what it made her feel.
At the time, I had four kids under eight years old, in a temporary housing situation, feeling suspended between two places. I was trying hard not to be overwhelmed, to savor all the frantic moments of a house full of young children. We were attending a church that was encouraging of large families which due to my hyperemesis gravidarum, I was finished having children. I appreciated the positive attitude toward children but also longed for friendships where I could be honest about my weariness and discuss issues outside of motherhood.
The opportunities for communing with other women in the church almost always required a Bible study and a heavy measure of self reflection as to why I was not having a daily quiet time, which was the source of all my struggles apparently, because God was bigger than my struggles and if only I would make time for Him, He might pay some attention to my needs. I had a different take . . . God was bigger than a quiet time and my struggles were actually because I had four small children under 8 years old.
The quiet time was not meditation . . . I would have loved meditation . . . it was indoctrination into ensuring that I was willing to be God’s vessel to reach the world, mainly through having and training children. . . yes, training. So, much of the time, I had to overlook a whole lot of conversation in the presence of women from church and deliberately choose not to say what I really thought of women being birthing and training vessels for God’s kingdom. With this backdrop of a support system, by 9 o’clock, I wanted me time. So, my kids would go to bed around 8 which meant they were in their jammies by 7:30, daylight in the summer time, even when other littles were heard playing outside or ringing our doorbell to play.
Back to the poem after which Anna sighed . . . “that is how I feel.” The closing lines of the poem are . . . “and does it not seem hard to you, when all the sky is clear and blue, and I should like so much to play, to have to go to bed by day?”
Pricks your heart, right? It pricked Anna’s. And because it pricked Anna’s, it pricked my “I-want-me-time” heart too.
I’m not sure whether I moved her bedtime to a later time at that point, but it helped me realize what was on her mind. Had we not read that poem, she may not have had the words at seven to share what she was feeling, and I may not have had the ears to hear as a weary mother of four to listen.
That is the beauty of poetry.
When you find words that resonate with you, it is a way to feel understood and be understood, fostering connection where two people may have conflicting experiences and feelings and needs.
Anna memorized this poem and my second daughter, Bethany, memorized Stevenson’s poem about a swing. We would practice the lines whenever she was on the swing. Anna also memorized The Shadow which would have been my favorite had the other poems not had memories attached to them.
By the time my younger two were old enough to memorize poems, our home was full of other options so I scrapped my previous plan to have each child memorize a Stevenson poem. Sometimes, your family outgrows your plan and that is a good thing.
We used this book for variety and as a bonus, it includes poems read by the poets themselves so I could play this when I had other things to do.
The book above has a lot of variety. The book below does not have as much, but it has explanations of different types of poems, time periods of the poems clearly marked, and vocabulary lists. I also love the illustrations in this book.
And ofcourse, Shel Silverstein . . . here are affiliate links in the order of publishing . . .
Aiden memorized the poem below . . . it was attributed to Tyler Rager by someone but other sources say that there are various poems like this dating way back and it is difficult to know its origin.
Two Dead Boys
Ladies and gentleman, skinny and stout,
I'll tell you a tale I know nothing about,
The admission is free so pay at the door,
Now pull out a chair and sit on the floor,
On one bright day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight,
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other.
The blind man came to see fair play,
The mute man came to shout hooray,
The deaf policeman heard the noise,
And came to stop those two dead boys.
He lived on the corner in the middle of the block,
In a two story house on a vacant lot,
A man with no legs came walking by,
And kicked the lawman in his thigh.
He crashed through a wall without making a sound,
Into a dry creek bed and suddenly drowned,
A long black hearse came to cart him away,
But he ran for his life and is still gone today.
I watched from the corner of the table,
The only eyewitness to facts of my fable,
If you doubt my lies are true,
Just ask the blind man, he saw it too.
We have this and while I never used it officially for homeschooling, it helped me help my kids brainstorm ideas. For a child who is really into poetry, it could help them challenge themselves well into high school even though the grades are 4-8.
My daughter who writes poems and music lyrics, uses rhyme zone. It not only gives rhyming words, but almost-rhyming words, and has a dictionary and thesaurus.
I could go on and on about the poems we have loved but really, every person is different, every family is different, and everyone resonates with different styles and different poems. So it is best to just expose them as much as you can so they can discover what they enjoy and what resonates with their inner world.
What are your family’s favorite poems?