October has arrived, the fruit is ripening, and the swallows are gathering in the skies. This is the time of year to introduce your students to one of the most famous fall poems in the English language, John Keats’ “To Autumn.” Why not read it with them this week and see how many of the scenes that Keats describes can be found in your own neighborhood.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, —
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Keats has been a standard component of high school and college curricula for generations, but what if you have small children — can literature like this be part of their homeschool experience as well? Absolutely! Just pick a phrase or a line that strikes you and insert it into your own daily conversations with your young students. When you walk out into the beautiful fall backyard say, “It’s the season of mellow fruitfulness.” Or point to the evening sky: “See the barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day.” Or listen in the local park: “Hear the gathering swallows twitter in the skies.”
You don’t need to mention that you’re quoting a line from a poem — just use it: “It’s the season of mellow fruitfulness.” Fifteen years from now in a college English class, as the professor turns to John Keats and begins to read, your student’s eyes will open wide and she’ll exclaim, “Hey, that’s what my mother always used to say!” 😊
What poetical discoveries have you made in your homeschool this week? 😊
❡ Making a new friend: When you introduce your students to a new poem, especially one in a traditional form, take your time, and don’t worry about “getting” everything right away. A good poem is a friend for life, and as with any friend, it takes several meetings to get acquainted. Before you even start to worry about “meaning,” take a look at the poem’s structure. How many lines does it have? Are the lines grouped into stanzas? How many lines in each stanza? How many syllables in each line? Many traditional poems are highly structured and fit together in an almost mathematical way, which you can discover by counting. Do the lines rhyme? What is the rhyme-scheme (ABAB, AABA, ABCD, or something else)? By uncovering these details of structure your students will come to appreciate good poems as carefully crafted pieces of literary labor.
❡ Looking in the lexicon: There’s some magnificent vocabulary in this week’s poem to look up in your family dictionary (riverhouses.org/books): mellow, thatch, hazel, granary, winnowing, furrow, gleaner, sallows, bourn. Send your students to the dictionary also for any poetical terminology they encounter: stanza, couplet, quatrain, sonnet, pentameter, hexameter, iambic, dactylic, and more — wonderful words, every one! 😊
❡ Explore more: The website of the Poetry Foundation (poetryfoundation.org) includes biographies and examples of the work of many important poets (including John Keats) that are suitable for high school students and homeschool teachers.
❡ Here, said the year: This post is one of our regular homeschool poems-of-the-week. Print your own River Houses poetry calendar for the whole year at riverhouses.org/calendars and follow along with us as we visit with forty-eight of our favorite friends.