October has arrived, the fruit is ripening, and the migrating birds 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” — it’s our homeschool poem-of-the-week for the first week of October. Why not read it aloud 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 twinèd 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 barrèd 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 staple of high school and college curricula for generations, and this poem in particular is often used to illustrate the literary technique of personification. (Who is “thee” in the second stanza?) Note also how precise the line-lengths are throughout: invite your students to count and they’ll find ten syllables every time. And “To Autumn” is a magnificent poem for vocabulary: send your students to your family dictionary to look up mellow, conspire, thatch, hazel, kernel, clammy, granary, winnowing, furrow, fume, gleaner, laden, stubble, sallows (not to be confused with shallows), borne and bourn, bleat, treble, croft, and more — wonderful words, every single one.
But what if you have small children, not high school students — 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. When you walk out into the beautiful fall backyard say, “It’s the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” Or point to the evening sky: “See how the barrèd 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 mists and mellow fruitfulness.” Ten 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 mom always used to say!”
What wonderful words and poetical productions are you studying in your homeschool this Cygnus Term? 😊
❡ 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 think 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. 🖋
❡ Barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day: 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: For a quick homeschool review of the artistic and literary movement known as Romanticism — the movement with which Keats is often associated — turn to page 338 in your River Houses history encyclopedia. 📚
❡ Literary lives: The website of the Poetry Foundation includes biographical notes 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. Add your name to our River Houses mailing list to get posts like these delivered right to your mailbox, and print your own River Houses Poetry Calendar to follow along with us as we visit fifty of our favorite friends over the course of the year. 📖