If you have not yet shared with students (of all ages!)—or enjoyed for yourself–the HBO Family DVD, created in collaboration with the Poetry Foundation, A Child’s Garden of Poetry, I highly recommend the experience.
(Although I have shared the video with students, in total, well over one hundred times, and enjoyed it on my own, as well, I never tire of immersing myself in this presentation!)
To the students’ delight, more than a dozen of the world’s most beloved poems are brought to life with animation, music, art, and recitations by well-known vocal talent (and wonderfully, sometimes even the poets, themselves!).
Besides the multi-sensory presentation, what makes the experience especially accessible for students is that the introductions to/reflections on the poems are delivered by children of all ages. (A most welcomed absence: no grownups interfering, elucidating, explaining, and stifling …no authoritative proclaiming! …”Just” a very special dose of knowledgeable peer sharing.)
When I first projected the DVD to students, I was concerned that some poems were too “heavy” for the younger primary-grade students, and others were too “babyish” for the intermediate students. And so I intended to pick and choose the poems to share with various grade-level audiences.
What I soon learned was that the older students enjoyed “My Shadow,” for example, as much as did their younger schoolmates. Likewise, younger students (surprisingly) loved “A Road Not Taken,” and “When You Are Old,” just as much as did the older students!
Undoubtedly, the visual presentation of the poems opened up their meanings for the students. Would the students—of all ages– have reacted as positively as they did if they had heard the words without the animated visual context/backdrop? …Probably not…
One of the responses of a child (probably no older than nine) who was featured on the video, perhaps, provides the best explanation—particularly for why students so loved “When You Are Old.”
She said, in essence, that although sad poems make you feel sad, they also are the most beautiful poems.
(In my words, sad poems are the most memorable, I think, because they are the ones that move us most deeply, touching us in places that are most vulnerable—making us feel most commonly human.)
So it was that, when I polled the K-Grade 5 students to learn their favorite poem from the video, even kindergartners chose “When You Are Old,” as did the older students, although the older students seemed more often to choose “The Road Not Taken.”
In the latter category, there was one notable exception. In sharing his response, one fifth grade boy named “When You Are Old” as his favorite poem, citing it for having opened his eyes (and his heart, no doubt!) to see differently his grandmother’s recent-loss reaction.
“The poem helped me see why my grandmother always looks so sad,” he explained. “I’m going to spend more time with her. I told my family that, too. We haven’t been very nice. I see how she feels now that my grandfather died.”
Saying he was very happy I had shown that poem, he thanked me. He thanked me. And I thought, it’s the poet he should be thanking. And I wondered if, when Yeats wrote that poem, he ever imagined that a ten-year old boy sitting in an elementary library would be so deeply touched and moved by his words to respond completely differently–so very compassionately- to his grandmother’s demonstrated grieving.
And I thought, too, of how–as I was preparing for her funeral–seeing photos of my mother as a young adult helped me to see her as a person, before, during, and after I entered the picture. She had a life apart from me, apart from being my mother….She was a woman; a woman with a long personal history…
In that context, I suspect that the animation of “When You Are Old,” which showed the older woman as a beautiful young girl and then, morphed into a sad elderly lady, helped the fifth grader to see his grandmother as someone, once young, who loved, and someone, now old, who grieved that loss.
Given that yesterday (October 1st) was the annual International Day of Older People, I “have” to share the poem that for five years so deeply moved “my” elementary K-5 students.
(Yes! Without apologizing, for the last five years, it became an annual Poetry Month event to share the Poetry DVD to all grades of students. Although there were some moans at the repetition, most students looked forward to seeing their favorite poems on the big screen; many recited the words right along with the narrators. What a blessing that DVD was for me–and for my students!)
Now, Mr. Yeats–
When You Are Old
———————William Butler Yeats——————-
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
When you call to mind the most memorable poems, are they the “saddest” ones?
If you are sixty or older, I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s day in your honor! (If you are not sixty or older, maybe you can get together with someone else and the two of you can qualify to celebrate!…Being old is good stuff–at least that’s what I’m telling myself.)