Today is the birthday of the great American poet Emily Dickinson (1830–1886), so she provides us with our homeschool poem-of-the-week for the second week of December — a poem for all lovers of books and language:
He ate and drank the precious Words —
His Spirit grew robust —
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was Dust —
He danced along the dingy Days
And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a Book — What Liberty
A loosened spirit brings —
Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, a small farming town in the Connecticut River valley. Her father was a town lawyer, and she grew up with an older brother and a younger sister who were the focal points of her home life. (“Mother does not care for thought,” she sadly reported.) Dickinson’s poetry came to be appreciated only in the twentieth century — almost none of it was published during her lifetime — and she is now regarded as one of the most important writers in American history.
Most of Dickinson’s poems are written in a traditional form, although they often employ striking and innovative imagery. “He ate and drank the precious Words,” for example, uses the same meter found in hundreds of Protestant hymns, the so-called eights-and-sixes arrangement. For a little lesson, have your students count the syllables: they will find a perfect 8-6-8-6 pattern throughout. The rhyme scheme in this poem is also regular, but not so heavy as to produce a sing-songy result — I make it out to be ABCB DFGF, with the second and fourth lines rhyming in each stanza.
Introduce your homescholars to Emily Dickinson this week on the occasion of her birthday and they’ll have a new friend for life.
What wonderful words have you found and what literary discoveries have you made in your homeschool lately? 😊
❡ His Spirit grew robust: 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 Poetry Foundation’s website (poetryfoundation.org) 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 for the whole year at riverhouses.org/calendars and follow along with us as we visit forty-eight of our favorite friends.