Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How to Enjoy Reading Poetry

Day 12~

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.   (a)
His house is in the village though;           (a)
He will not see me stopping here             (b)
To watch his woods fill up with snow.     (a)

My little horse must think it queer   (b, this hearkens back to the above stanza)
To stop without a farmhouse near     (b)
Between the woods and frozen lake   (c)
The darkest evening of the year.        (b)

He gives his harness bells a shake   (c, there it is again)
To ask if there is some mistake.       (c)
The only other sound’s the sweep    (d)
Of easy wind and downy flake.        (c)

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  (d, still looking back to the last stanza)
But I have promises to keep,                (d)
And miles to go before I sleep,             (d)
And miles to go before I sleep.             (d)

Here we have a simple poem which may be somewhat understood after one reading.  First we will read the poem through once slowly enjoying the flow. If it doesn't flow too well then try reading it again until you get the feel.  You could ask the kids if anyone understands what is happening in the poem or even to narrate the poem.

You could also work through the rhyme scheme. Just add a letter of the alphabet to every new sound at the end of a line. I have added the rhyme scheme above.  This poem ends with a quatrain rhyme. Often poems of various schemes end with couplets. This quatrain is really just 2 couplets, in a way, especially as the last two lines repeat the same thing.

You could talk about why the poem ends with a repeated line.
You could talk about how many syllables are in each line.  In this poem we have lines of 8 syllables each or tetrameter.
Since each stanza has 4 lines they are called quatrains.

What about that word 'queer'? Did your children giggle when you read that? If they did it would be a great time to talk about the changing nature of words. A child raised on poetry learns the nuances of words and begins to understand something about the transitory meaning of words. This is an important skill.

You could also ask the children for word pictures describing what the poem evokes in their own words. None of this need last more than a few minutes. We are not dissecting the poem; we are learning how a poem means.

If we were going to be memorizing this poem, I would do none of this until we had read the poem for at least a week.  But I would talk about some of this if I was just reading the poem for today.  As I said, but will say again, this is helping us to think poetically.

Of course, there can be much more to poetry than just those things I mentioned. You can also get into which syllables are stressed and other more difficult feats but as I said we don't want to tear the poem apart only start to think.

Need help learning to do this? Here are a few of my favorite resources:

How Does a Poem Mean? (An Introduction to Literature, Part 3)  This is the best book that I know of on poetry.  This is not for the kids but for mom.

The Classic Hundred Poems by William Harmon
This book will hold your hand through all of the above.

The Michael Clay Thompson Poetry levels are also helpful for this. You can just read them aloud during Morning Time using the text to have family discussions.  I have said before that I get annoyed that Mr. Thompson finds alliteration and purpose in poetry where I think he should only find serendipity but still for this sort of thinking his books are excellent.  You can start with Music of the Spheres no matter what age your children are.

Of course, you will want to have many poetry books around your home beginning with nursery rhymes. You will begin to find poems you love on your own and might not even need lists of ideas. I found Thomas Hardy when my children were small and he remains a favorite.

Let me just note that the poem below is so rich you never read it without tuning in to some new element. We can ask ourselves how does this poem mean and the answer is richly rewarded.

Suggestion of the Day for Morning Time Memory:


by Thomas Hardy

This is the weather the cuckoo likes,
And so do I;
When showers betumble the chestnut spikes,
And nestlings fly;
And the little brown nightingale bills his best,
And they sit outside at 'The Traveller's Rest,'
And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest,
And citizens dream of the south and west,
And so do I.

This is the weather the shepherd shuns,
And so do I;
When beeches drip in browns and duns,
And thresh and ply;
And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe,
And meadow rivulets overflow,
And drops on gate bars hang in a row,
And rooks in families homeward go,
And so do I.

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