Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Poetic Narration Demystified

In honor of April being National Poetry Month, let's talk about poetry as a form of narration. Miss Mason believed that children should not only learn to enjoy poetry, but also to understand its structure and be able to replicate it. A cute jingle that rhymes does not equal a poem of worth. A child may start off his poetic career with such, but growth and improvement should be expected, and this can only happen with some guidance. Fortunately, the mystery behind beautiful poetry is easily revealed.

"Poetry that lacks form lacks intelligence. So does a piece of architecture. The more refined the intelligence the more sophisticated the form can (potentially) become. If we think we can produce great poetry by chance (we call it inspiration), we are deluded. The muses can inspire movement, but only the trained intellect can form it appropriately."
Andrew Kern, President and Founder of CiRCE Institute

Once you have exposed your child to a wide variety of good poetry and they have learned to enjoy it, then they are old enough to begin poetic narrations. For us, that was around 11 or 12 years of age. My children really enjoy these. I simply ask them to write a narration about a specific passage, but it must be written as a poem. When they become comfortable with this, I add another requirement- copy the style of a recent poet they have studied or are currently studying.

For example, my daughter is reading Ivanhoe. Once a week, during this term only, she writes a poetic narration about the chapter she read that week or about just a portion of the chapter. Since she is reading, copying and memorizing Alfred Lord Tennyson's poetry this term, she is writing poetic narrations in the style of Tennyson, particularly his free verse form from 'Idylls of the King'. Last term, she learned a little about the alliterative form because she read 'Beowulf.' So, I asked her to write a poetic narration similar to Beowulf from Twain's Joan of Arc- the book she was reading at the time. Next year, when she studies Shakespeare's sonnets, she will write some poetic narrations from her literature books in sonnet form.

Now, don't let this intimidate you. As a mother (father) or teacher, you do not need to know or teach these forms in order to assign poetic narrations. If your child has studied a poet for any length of time, he begins to get a good grasp of their style and can quite easily copy them without even knowing what the formal word is to identify that structure or style. (This is another good reason to focus on ONE poet over a time period rather than a hodge-podge of poems.) You don't need to grade these narrations based upon his use of poetic form because you are just trying to see if he understood the general idea behind the structure.

Once your child has dabbled in copying other poets' styles, he is ready to learn about those structures in more detail including their names and the rhyme and meter patterns so that he can really write poetry with good form. I recommend The Grammar of Poetry by Matt Whitling and the teacher's guide. (We save our pennies by reusing the workbook for all the kids. They just keep their answers in a notebook.) My daughter used this book at 13 years of age, completing just one lesson per week. Now she loves poetry even more than before because she has learned how to write many different forms. She had so many 'aaah!' moments while working through the exercises. This book is excellent! However, it is not for the student who hasn't yet developed a love for poetry, because, although it is simple, it is technical.

If you happen to be starting poetry study late with your children, you can still do this. Just let them have a year or two, no matter how old they are, to hear some poets' works and learn to enjoy a few. Then begin the poetic narration and a little later, The Grammar of Poetry. It can be used any time throughout junior high or high school.

DO add poetic narration to your week. It will make poets out of your children, providing a source of comfort and beauty throughout their lives.

one step at a time...


  1. Anonymous17.4.07

    Ever since starting AMbleside Online and doing poetry everyday and just reading it, my children and I have come to enjoy it even more. Poetry or at least the poem I like remind my of Beethoven's ninth symphony, uplifting and soul filling.


  2. Anonymous18.4.07

    This comment is about narration in general, not just poetry. The CM approach is new to me and I am trying to figure it all out so please bear with my question if it is silly. I am hoping to start doing narration with my 9yo son. My question is if he is reading a book to himself and I ask him to narrate a chapter, how do I know if his narration is correct if I haven't read the book myself?

    Thanks for your help,

  3. Inspiring post, Linda!

    Have you read this:
    The last pages of the CM Educational Review issue (online) is a 14 year old boy's narration as poetry--exquisite!

    Thank you, Linda...as always...

  4. Christy,thanks for that poetry commercial!

    Barbara, I will try to answer this in a post this week.

    Ann V, thanks for the encouraging feedback. I wasn't sure if this post was clear enough. (Yes, I have read this Review and poem. It is inspiring, to say the least.)

    Blessings to each of you...

  5. A book was published this year called MaidofHeaventhat is an epic poem about Joan of Arc that is wonderful. It is such a great way to tell this story.