Our monthly Great Star for May has been Polaris, the North Star. Many of our other monthly stars rise and set with the seasons, but Polaris is always there, every night, keeping its post and orienting us to the world — and that’s why it’s our star for May and the end of our academic year, as so many homeschool students begin their own independent journeys.
William Cullen Bryant provides us with an extra homeschool poem-of-the-week to remind us of that very idea: other stars may rise and set in this turbulent world, but if you fix your sights on Polaris, you’ll never lose your way.
Hymn to the North Star
The sad and solemn night
Hath yet her multitude of cheerful fires;
The glorious host of light
Walk the dark hemisphere till she retires;
All through her silent watches, gliding slow,
Her constellations come, and climb the heavens, and go.
Day, too, hath many a star
To grace his gorgeous reign, as bright as they:
Through the blue fields afar,
Unseen, they follow in his flaming way:
Many a bright lingerer, as the eve grows dim,
Tells what a radiant troop arose and set with him.
And thou dost see them rise,
Star of the Pole! and thou dost see them set.
Alone, in thy cold skies,
Thou keep’st thy old unmoving station yet,
Nor join’st the dances of that glittering train,
Nor dipp’st thy virgin orb in the blue western main.
There, at morn’s rosy birth,
Thou lookest meekly through the kindling air,
And eve, that round the earth
Chases the day, beholds thee watching there;
There noontide finds thee, and the hour that calls
The shapes of polar flame to scale heaven’s azure walls.
Alike, beneath thine eye,
The deeds of darkness and of light are done;
High towards the star-lit sky
Towns blaze — the smoke of battle blots the sun —
The night-storm on a thousand hills is loud —
And the strong wind of day doth mingle sea and cloud.
On thy unaltering blaze
The half-wrecked mariner, his compass lost,
Fixes his steady gaze,
And steers, undoubting, to the friendly coast;
And they who stray in perilous wastes, by night,
Are glad when thou dost shine to guide their footsteps right.
And, therefore, bards of old,
Sages, and hermits of the solemn wood,
Did in thy beams behold
A beauteous type of that unchanging good,
That bright eternal beacon, by whose ray
The voyager of time should shape his heedful way.
William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878) was one of the most famous writers — and perhaps one of the most famous public figures — of nineteenth-century America. His life began in straining poverty in rural New England; upon his death at the age of 83 he received a vast public funeral in New York City, and the grounds of the New York Public Library were renamed Bryant Park in his honor.
Once upon a time, Bryant’s famous meditation on nature and mortality, “Thanatopsis,” was memorized by school children across America. And while it’s true that Bryant’s classical literary style is somewhat out of fashion today, fashions in literature, like fashions in all things, go through cycles, and his popularity may rise again. For something different this coming summer, why not encourage your homescholars to explore some of Bryant’s work and see what it might offer to us once again today.
What celestial sights, astronomical apparitions, and literary meditations did you examine in your homeschool this Leo Term? 🌟
❡ Places to go: Two historic houses associated with William Cullen Bryant are now museums: the Bryant Homestead in rural Cummington, Massachusetts, and the Clayton–Cedarmere Estates on Long Island, New York. The New York Public Library is located in Bryant Park in Manhattan, where a William Cullen Bryant Memorial also stands. Why not get out your homeschool atlas and track them down today. 🗺
❡ Literary lives: The website of the Poetry Foundation includes biographical notes and examples of the work of many important poets (including William Cullen Bryant) that are suitable for high school students and homeschool teachers. ✒️
❡ Choose something like a star: Teaching your students to recognize the constellations is one of the simplest and most enduring gifts you can give them. Your recommended backyard star guide and homeschool world atlas both contain charts of the constellations that will show you the all the highlights. Find a dark-sky spot near you this month and spend some quality homeschool time beneath the starry vault. 🌌
❡ Star bright: If you’d like some light and easy homeschool astronomy lessons, download and print a copy of our annual River Houses Star Calendar and follow along with us month by month as we make twelve heavenly friends-for-life over the course of the year. 🌟
❡ Watchers of the skies: This is one of our regular Homeschool Astronomy posts, and it’s also one of our Language & Literature posts! Add your name to our River Houses mailing list and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox every week. 🗞
❡ Homeschool calendars: We have a whole collection of free, printable, educational homeschool calendars and planners available on our main River Houses calendar page. They will all help you create a light and easy structure for your homeschool year. Give them a try today! 🗓
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❡ Join us! The aim of the River Houses project is to create a network of friendly local homeschool support groups — local chapters that we call “Houses.” Our first at-large chapter, Headwaters House, is now forming and is open to homeschoolers everywhere. Find out how to become one of our founding members on the Headwaters House membership page. 🏡