For live links, click to: riverhouses.org/2019-gentian
For all late bloomers, our homeschool poem-of-the-week for the second week of October is an autumnal gem from Emily Dickinson (1830–1886). Read it with your students — your own little gentians, perhaps — and give them a new friend for life.
God made a little Gentian —
It tried — to be a Rose —
And failed — and all the Summer laughed —
But just before the Snows
There rose a Purple Creature —
That ravished all the Hill —
And Summer hid her Forehead —
And Mockery — was still —
The Frosts were her condition —
The Tyrian would not come
Until the North — invoke it —
Creator — Shall I — bloom?
Great writers are always great observers, and Dickinson knew the wildflowers of her native New England well. This poem is about a specific plant, the Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita), one of the late-blooming wildflowers of the northeast. The flowers of exuberant summer tend to attract all the attention — they’re the showy extroverts of the natural world. The late bloomers, by contrast, just bide their time, wait for the noise to die down, and then “ravish all the hill.”
“God made a little Gentian” isn’t quite as formally metrical as many of Dickinson’s poems, but it does follow her usual pattern of short lines of six to eight syllables, and it has just enough rhyme to produce a strong sense of structure: Rose–Snows, Hill–still, come–bloom. Note also the lovely verbal plays on Creature and Creator as well as on Rose (the flower) and rose (the verb).
The glowing vocabulary word in this poem is Tyrian. That’s a jewel of a word for your students to look up in your family dictionary (riverhouses.org/books), and you can use that one word to teach a whole little lesson in geography and history. (Be sure to check grid K-11 on plate 79 in your homeschool atlas.) Rare color words can be very powerful in writing, but like a sharp spice they have to be used sparingly. Consider how many striking words there are for blue and purple alone: azure, cobalt, cerulean, amethyst, hyacinth, violet, Tyrian. (“There are [words] to which I lift my hat when I see them sitting princelike among their peers on the page. Sometimes I write one, and look at his outlines till he glows as no sapphire.”)
What glowing words have you found and what literary discoveries have you made in your homeschool this week? 😊
❡ The cold never bothered me anyway: If a special line or turn of phrase happens to strike you in one of our weekly poems, just copy it onto your homeschool bulletin board for a few days and invite your students to speak it aloud — that’s all it takes to begin a new poetical friendship and learn a few lovely words that will stay with you for life. 😊
❡ Explore more: The website of the Poetry Foundation includes biographical notes and examples of the work of many important poets (including Emily Dickinson) 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 (riverhouses.org/calendars) and follow along with us as we visit forty-eight of our favorite friends. 📖