Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. Percy Bysshe Shelley
"You will never be alone with a poem in your pocket," John Adams told his son John Quincy, as the young man set off to Russia in 1781. "Johnny" was just fourteen-years-old, but fluent in French, proficient in Greek and Latin, and precocious enough to be commissioned official secretary to the American minister to Russia on that trip. If pedagogical practice of the period was any measure, young John Quincy Adams probably had a lot more poems in his head than in his pocket. Poetry memorization was an important part of any young child's education.
On the Core Virtues site, we're featuring classic poems that sing to the heart and celebrate the virtues. If your students learn them by heart, they will be part of a long and fruitful pedagogical tradition. Literary critic Brad Leithauser notes “memorized poems are a sort of larder, laid up against the hungers of an extended period of solitude.” Poems committed to memory can inspire (even save us) in moments of darkness or isolation (just ask Nelson Mandela or Joseph Brodsky, a dissident in the Gulag). The treasures of memorized verse are not limited to political exiles, though. Poetry memorization allows students to internalize the quality language, cadence, rhyme, and rhythm that "lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world." They are a source of wonder.
I saw you toss the kites on high And blow the birds about the sky; And all around I heard you pass, Like ladies' skirts across the grass-- O wind, a-blowing all day long, O wind, that sings so loud a song!
I saw the different things you did, But always you yourself you hid. I felt you push, I heard you call, I could not see yourself at all-- O wind, a-blowing all day long, O wind, that sings so loud a song!
O you that are so strong and cold, O blower, are you young or old? Are you a beast of field and tree, Or just a stronger child than me? O wind, a-blowing all day long, O wind, that sings so loud a song!
Sing A Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year. Fiona Waters, editor, Illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon. Nosy Crow, 2018, (K-6) Wonder This gorgeous, hefty volume is a great way for teachers and parents to infuse poetry into everyday life. Fun and lively illustrations are the backdrop for relatively short, seasonally appropriate poems for every day of the year. (Great for memorizing.) Old favorites, new poems, serious and silly: each inspires wonder and delight at the beauty of nature. A poetry anthology, rather than a Morning Gathering read-aloud, and a treasure for the classroom or for family to share.
Read! Read! Read!Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. Illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke. Wordsong, 2017 (K-4) Twenty three poems about reading by contemporary poet VanDerwater. Each one simply but eloquently reiterating how and why reading is so important in our lives. A lovely collection that can be read again and again.
The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury.Edited by Jack Prelutsky. Illustrated by Meilo So (K-6) Jack Prelutsky has collected rollicking, fun poems of contemporary poets – not sugary sweet or moralistic poems of bygone days, but poems about the feelings of real kids growing up today. Lovely and whimsical watercolors illustrate the 211 contemporary poems.
A Whiff of Pine, A Hint of Skunk. Deborah Ruddell. Illustrated by Joan Rankin. Margaret McElderry Books, 2009. (K-3) Poetry, Wonder A delightful collection of poems about nature. Consider "Biography of a Beaver" - Bucktooth Cleaver, Tree Retriever, Building Conceiver, True Believer, Waterproof Weaver, Overachiever, Roll-Up-Her-Sleever – Hooray for the Beaver! Lighthearted illustrations of the woodland scenes along with the poems make you want to take a walk in the woods.
Poetry for Young People. Sterling Children’s Books (3-6) A wonderful series of individual books on great poets of the English language: Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, and more. The volumes feature a picture of the poet, several pages of biography, reflections on what may have influenced their poetic style and content, and a selection of poems. Each poem is fittingly illustrated and accompanied by definitions for words that may be unknown to children. The illustrators have been chosen to complement the style of the poetry.
Mirror Mirror. A Book of Reverso Poems. Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Josee Masse. Dutton Children’s Books, 2010 (1-4) Each poem in this unique collection can be read top to bottom or bottom to top. Charmingly illustrated, each page is split in half with each side matching the up or down poem. This new take on old fairy tales is fun and thoughtful.
The Harp and Laurel Wreath. Poetry and Dictation for the Classical Curriculum. Laura M. Berquist. Ignatius Press, 1999. Poetry (K-8) If you are looking for a marvelous collection of classics by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Lewis Carroll, Steven Vincent Benet, Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and many more, this is your (nearly five-hundred-page) volume! Poetry selections divided into "The Early Years," "The Grammatical Stage," "The Dialectical Stage," and "The Rhetorical Stage."