Charlotte Mason says, “Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers” (Ourselves, p. 71). Mason, herself a poet, also said , “. . . some one poet should have at least a year to himself, that he may have time to do what is in him towards cultivating the seeing eye, the hearing ear, the generous heart” (Formation of Character, p. 224). Through this kind of intimacy with a poet, poets are bound to grab you for a lifetime. Luci Shaw is one for me. Her words reach into my heart and deeply nourished me, bringing water and light. I have collected her books and have made sure to share the beauty of her poetry with my students and friends.
In October, I was thrilled to hear Luci Shaw in person for the first time. At Hutchmoot in Nashville, she was introduced by Andrew Peterson, author and musician. In his introduction he used words that made me think of a Charlotte Mason education:
“a child-sense of wonder” “wishing for better eyes from reading her poetry” “it takes a healthy imagination”
“poems which call us to attention.”
Luci Shaw, 86, held our attention and thus did what poets do: teach us. Start with Attention. The word comes from the Latin: ad-tendere–to lean into, focus deeply, to stretch towards. Paying attention requires time and awareness, love, concentration and penetration. We have professions in which we discover beauty. Find fresh ways to discover it. The Benedictines defined beauty as “truth shining into being.” Truth being very faceted has a lens of revelation. STOP. Let it imprint itself on yourself.
My high school students are reading Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntrye. For the chapter on Poetry, I asked my high school students to write on these questions:
#1.Emily Dickinson said “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” What poems have taken off the top of your head? Explain.
#2. Do you have a poem that you return to, like a sacrament, to provide strength for the journey? How?
To be a good steward of words, you need to pay attention. Through reading and celebrating poety, one cultivates a seeing eye, a hearing ear and an enlarged heart. You might ask your students, no matter how old or young about the poems they love.
Here is a sample by Emma Buckingham, a Senior:
I suppose the reason I love poetry is because I have never been introduced to a poem in a logical, analytical way. That is not to say I have not analyzed a poem and searched its cracks and crevices for meaning, but not with the logical, analytical methods of the ACT or SAT. There is no pleasure in deciding whether the author’s intent was to write about a photographer’s life and work or the history of photography, and if he accomplished his task. This particular writing sample in the SAT was not poetry, but nonetheless, poetry is too often taught in this stiff and rigid way, with no allotment for enjoyment. This will not allow for children to learn and take pleasure in poetry. They may not be able to grasp the “deep connotations” but they understand, better than us, the simple beauty of truth.
Emily Dickinson said, “ If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” I believe that the thing that makes us feel like the top of our heads have come off is truth. And along with truth comes beauty and goodness. The poem that “takes my head off” is The Lanyard by Billy Collins. It is his story as a young boy giving his mother a lanyard in repayment for all she has given him: life, food, clothes, and education. It is beautiful and hilarious and speaks of truth.
The poem I return to continually is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. Ever since I heard Robert Timmons (in BBC’s Larkrise to Candleford) say it to Margaret Brown before he walked her down the aisle to marry Thomas, I have been in love with this poem. It is an incredible depiction of biblical love, not just marriage, but also friendships. It is a glimpse of the love God has for us, and I find immense encouragement and joy in that.
© 2014 Bonnie Buckingham