It’s Wonderful Words Wednesday! This week: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Snow-flakes,” for a blizzardy New England day.
We’re in the midst of an all-day blizzard here in New England, so that’s a perfect opportunity to do a five-minute homeschool read-aloud of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s wintry poem “Snow-flakes”:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.
If it’s not snowing where you are today, just bookmark old Henry and pull him out again someday when his words match the weather.
What homeschool literary discoveries have you made lately?
¶ Count and map: When you introduce your students to a new poem, especially one in a traditional form, don’t begin by asking about abstract meaning or symbolism; the first thing to do is just have them count the syllables and map the rhyme scheme. How many syllables in each line in this poem? The pattern is complex, but each stanza is the same: 8–11–8–9–6–4. (And that gives you a clue about how certain words should be pronounced: “Even” in the second stanza is one long syllable, not two.) What about the rhyme scheme? The first stanzas is air–shaken–bare–forsaken–slow–snow. That looks like A–B–A–B–C–C, and that’s the general pattern followed in all three stanzas. Uncovering these details of structure teaches your students that a poem of this kind is not the result of some sort of spontaneous imaginative outburst on the part of the poet; it is instead an intricately crafted piece of literary labor.
¶ Explore more: You can find a detailed outline of Longfellow’s life, work, and legacy on the Poetry Foundation’s Longfellow page—just the thing for a high school literature student, or maybe for you!
¶ Patterns of reinforcement: Homeschooling provides exceptional opportunities to reinforce a student’s learning from one day to the next through a range of little lessons. For example, our state-of-the-week this week is Maine, so for Museums & Monuments Day we visited the Wadsworth-Longfellow House in Portland, Maine, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s boyhood home, and today for Wonderful Words on Wednesday we selected a Longfellow poem, illustrated with a stamp that was first issued in Portland because that was Longfellow’s birthplace (as you had learned just two days before). So while this may appear to be madness, yet there is method in it!