Monday, April 04, 2011


April is National Poetry Month.

I use poetry in my classroom every single day. Each week, all classes have a new poem, or part of a long poem, to memorize. We recite it every day. Several times. We read it in round robin fashion to stay on our p's and q's.

We, rather, I talk about it. I talk about the vocabulary, the rhyme if there is any, the structure. I weave in grammar lesson content that we've covered [find the inverted word order in the second stanza; find the rhythm meter; find synonymous (or antithetic) parallelism; find an onomatopoetic word; find the gerunds; etc.].

I try to pick poetry that harmonizes with the history we are currently studying. For instance, when eighth graders studied the Crimean War, we memorized "The Charge of the Light Brigade." Incidentally, just this week, I had a student I taught four years ago come to me during lunch and ask what the name of the poem was that went . . . and he proceeded to recite a bit. I wasn't even pressing poetry on those students much in those days. Yet, he remembered.

Nowadays, I press poetry. Last month, the eighth graders studied World War I. I had chosen two poems for memory during this time: "In Flanders Fields" and "A Prayer of a Soldier in France." I shared the picture book In Flanders Fields to help illustrate.

I didn't realize the effect of these poems on the students until one student brought me a picture she had drawn illustrating "A Prayer of a Soldier in France." And even more, when we were reading All Quiet on the Western Front, I took up the books one day at a cliff-hanger ending because I did not want them to read ahead. One student was obviously almost upset because she left her bookmark in the book. When I found it and gave it back to her, I saw that she had copied "In Flanders Fields" on a 1" x 2" piece of notebook paper. Tiny. It was frayed around the edges from use. Her little bookmark was quite special to her, almost part of her. She had been bookmarking All Quiet with "In Flanders Fields." There was no coincidence; it was all very intentional.

Realization of this had an effect on me. Students are affected by poetry's effects. They get it. And the words and meanings begin worming their way into their inner eye. I will treasure Sarah's longing look and begging for her bookmark for a long time. She had been moved.

The past two weeks, the seventh and eighth graders have learned "The House by the Side of the Road" by Sam Walter Foss. I found this poem as a result of Marva Collins who said in Marva Collins' Way that she teaches this poem every year. Every.single.time I read it, the words deepen in meaning and I see something else new. What a great poem to learn. A lovely reading with flowing piano music support (yet rather distracting, in my opinion, visuals) can be found here.

The House by the Side of the Road Sam Walter Foss (1858 - 1911)

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that swell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by;
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban;
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

I see from my house by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears
Both parts of an infinite plan;
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by;
They are good, they are bad, they are weak,
They are strong,
Wise, foolish - so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat
Or hurl the cynic's ban? -
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

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