Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Poem Can be Consoling

A Poem Can be Consoling 

     Small clouds are sailing,
     Blue sky prevailing,
     The rain is over and gone!
                    William Wordsworth 

     The calendar was filling up with gray clouds, rain, sleet, drizzle, and fog. But the day I gathered ideas for this post was different. It was a storybook March day – chilly, windy - puffs of white clouds sailing across a blue sky - a perfect match to Wordsworth’s “Written in March.”

     I eyed this welcoming sky through the parlor window glass in between the pages of my reading. On gray days my little bottles on the window are a substitute blue. But on that afternoon I enjoyed the real thing. 

     In my reading I came upon a poem celebrating springtime. It was written by one of Miss Charlotte Mason’s students. Not only did Miss Mason’s students narrate in prose from the subjects they were learning, sometimes the assignment was to narrate in verse. E. G. age 17 is one narration example. I share part of the poem here with you.    

Come spring, thou fairest season come!
With the bee’s enchanting hum,
And the dainty blossoms swinging
On the tree, while birds are singing,
See how they clothe the branches gray
In dress of freshest pink, all day,
Then when the dewy evening falls
They close their flowers till Morning calls.
Sweet Morn! Spring leads thee by the hand
And bids thee shine o’er all the land;
Thou send’st forth beams of purest gold,
To bid the daffodils unfold,
While Spring bends down with her fresh lips
To kiss the daisie’s petal tips.
And as she walks or’er the green sward
A cheerful mavis, perfect bard
Breaks into song; his thrilling notes
Are echoed from a hundred throats
Of eager birds, who love to sing
To their sweet mistress, fairest Spring. 
. . .
Oh!  Spring my heart’s desire shall be
That thou wilt ever dwell with me!
"May-time" by William Stephen Coleman 1829-1904 English

     Isn’t it lovely? Forgive my abridgment. The full poem can be found on pages 208 and 209 of Philopsophy of Education.  

     Seeking more poems about spring I returned to our trusty hardcover copy of Favorite Poems Old and New by Helen Ferris. Some poems are like old friends. One of mine --one I couldn’t help memorize along with my little girls -- because I read it aloud several times a day for a week in 1989 -- I remember distinctly because that was the spring my son was born -- is “Who has Seen the Wind?” by Christina Rossetti. Do you know it? 

     You can see that our well-worn Famous Poems Old and New is straining at the seams. 

     William Wordsworth 1770-1850 and Christina Rossetti 1830-1894 are two of the classic “old” poets in this thick book of almost 600 pages. “New” poets such as Ogden Nash 1902-1971 and Eleanor Frajeon 1881-1965 have a place, too. Poems might be cute, comical, calming, patriotic, sad, silly, serious, or religious. This selection of poems entered the ears and imaginations of my children age 5 to 13. But older people (like mothers, fathers, teachers) enjoy them in their own way. 

     The poems are divided by theme into eighteen sections. Each theme is decorated with a line drawing by L. Weisgard. What a wealth of poems for home learning! 
     In the introduction the author gives us paragraphs about the fond memories of her childhood. Doesn’t it sound like Helen Ferries experienced a sort of  “gentle art of learning?”

“This book had its beginning years ago when two parents, loving poetry, made it as much a part of their children’s every day as getting up in the morning, eating breakfast, going to school, playing outdoors until suppertime.”

     Are we in too much of a rush to read a poem? It takes only minutes to read one. Perhaps there always seems to be more important things to attend to – what highly efficient people call “the essentials.”  And yet, we are all the better for reading just one poem. Be careful. This may be as difficult to do as munching just one potato chip
     It isn’t necessary that poetry be made an everyday affair as it was in the childhood of Helen Ferris. We create the story of our homes. Sprinkle poems into the schedule – however-whenever. And souls will be enriched.   


     If you are intrigued by the idea of giving to your students an assignment to express themselves through a narration of verse, first lay a foundation. Put young children in touch with a variety of poems now-and-again for some years.
     Are you starting narration with older students and haven’t got years? Months of familiarity will do.

     I finished hooking my chair pad with wool yarn this winter. While I wait for my budding flowers to bloom I have spring poems to console me.

     I also gaze upon the flower on my chair pad. It might be a pink dogwood or a plum blossom.  

     See how they clothe the branches gray
     In dresses of freshest pink, all day

Thank you, E.G., whoever you are.

Until next time,
Karen Andreola

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On Voyages of Discovery

On Voyages of Discovery    
     Spring is just around the corner. I will put my winter plate away – the one that pictures a cozy fireside scene from The Four Seasons of BramblyHedge by Jill Barklem

The Four Seasons plate

     It is the last of my set of four to show you.   

Brambly Hedge plate

     Our copy of Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown has characters that are not afraid of yet another week of snow. The littlest fur creature benefits by being out of hibernation. He exercises his inquisitive nature as well as his limbs.   

     I like to see the root children in joyous procession come out of the ground holding each a spring flower, dressed in their flower’s color. There is a dance in their step as they anticipate the sunbeams again with beetles and ladybugs joining in. Sibylle van Olfer’s The Story of the Root Children is a childhood favorite of one of my readers – and I can see why.   

A neighbor's mailbox

      By long-distance letter, a friend in the south told me her daffodils are blooming. “I wish our daffodils would stop dilly-dallying?” I said to Dean in a moment of impatience. Some afternoons the temperature has been above freezing. But I should know better. Daffodils don’t dilly-dally. They bloom only when favored with a string of 50 degree days. No other temperature will coax them.    

 To soothe my cabin fever I felt it time to take out my faux daffodils for the kitchen windowsill.   

     It is good to know that spring is around the corner. Young children indoors for long cloudy months can become irksome. Mother, too. Older children can be strangely moody.

Dean's photograph of a barn in Strasburg, PA on a soon-to-be-spring day.

     When I read the following passage by Miss Charlotte Mason, I couldn’t help chuckle. It is a piece of writing that is as entertaining as it is meant to be instructional as Susie looks for tid-bits close at hand to satisfy her inquiring mind. (I can’t help wondering just how many servants Susie’s mother has.) Miss Mason writes:

     Susie is an inquisitive little girl. Her mother is surprised and not always delighted to find that the little maid is constantly on voyages of discovery, of which the servants speak to each other as prying and poking. Is her mother engaged in talk with a visitor or the nurse? Behold, Susie is at her side, sprung from nobody knows where. Is a confidential letter being read aloud? Susie is within earshot. Does the mother think she has put away a certain book where the children cannot find it? Susie volunteers to produce it. Does she tell her husband that cook has asked for two day’s leave of absence? Up jumps Susie, with all the ins and outs of the case. ‘I really don’t know what to do with the child. It is difficult to put down one’s foot and say you ought not to know this or that or the other. Each thing in itself is harmless enough; but it is a little distressing to have a child who is always peering about for gossipy information.’      Yes, it is tiresome, but it is not a case for despair, nor for thinking hard things of Susie, certainly not for accepting the inevitable. . . . What ails the child is an inordinate desire for knowledge, run to seed, and allowed to spend itself of unworthy objects. *1

     What do you think is Miss Mason’s remedy? First she recommends getting Susie outdoors to pry into nature. I fancy the girl in the painting to be a girl like Susie. Doesn’t the sunshine look inviting? 

     Next, Miss Mason conveys the importance of setting Susie’s mind on larger matters. This works wonders for people of all ages. Are we learning anything new? Or, do all our hours seem “old hat.” A good question to ask a student is this: “What new thing did you learn from today’s (Bible, history, science) lesson?” A report at the dinner table spreads the new knowledge around and may even tickle the younger students’ interested ears. If the reply is too often a gloomy “nothing” adjustments may need to be made, somewhere. The freedom to make adjustments is a blessing of home teaching. Challenge and blessing frequently coincide.

     On a lighter note, when my children were young, during a month when we were cooped up, I’d keep a book of riddles handy. At lunchtime I’d read a riddle – just one. (I could have read more riddles but I chose to ration them). While they ate they took their time thinking about how to answer the riddle. We’d smile at the guesses, and sometimes giggle when enlightened by the answer.

red cabbage, apples, and raisons


   Something new to think about – like springtime - is a refreshing change that helps us rise above the mundane and replaces trite curiosities.

     May you always be learning something new – for your Mother Culture - even if it is simply a recipe for red cabbage – baked with apples and spice it’s nice.  

Comments are welcome,
Karen Andreola

End Notes
*1  Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, page 176.