During this Valentine’s Week, why not invite your students to spend a few minutes with a famous literary Valentine: the earliest poem we have by the great American writer Emily Dickinson (1830–1886). It’s our homeschool poem-of-the-week for the second week of February.
Addressed to an unnamed (and perhaps fictionalized) young man when Dickinson was about twenty, the poem’s message is simple: everything in the universe eventually pairs up, you know, and my five friends and I are all charming single ladies — so don’t dilly-dally, young man: pick one of us!
Awake Ye Muses Nine
Awake ye muses nine, sing me a strain divine,
Unwind the solemn twine, and tie my Valentine!
Oh the Earth was made for lovers, for damsel, and hopeless swain,
For sighing, and gentle whispering, and unity made of twain.
All things do go a courting, in earth, or sea, or air,
God hath made nothing single but thee in His world so fair!
The bride, and then the bridegroom, the two, and then the one,
Adam, and Eve, his consort, the moon, and then the sun;
The life doth prove the precept, who obey shall happy be,
Who will not serve the sovereign, be hanged on fatal tree.
The high do seek the lowly, the great do seek the small,
None cannot find who seeketh, on this terrestrial ball;
The bee doth court the flower, the flower his suit receives,
And they make merry wedding, whose guests are hundred leaves;
The wind doth woo the branches, the branches they are won,
And the father fond demandeth the maiden for his son.
The storm doth walk the seashore humming a mournful tune,
The wave with eye so pensive, looketh to see the moon,
Their spirits meet together, they make their solemn vows,
No more he singeth mournful, her sadness she doth lose.
The worm doth woo the mortal, death claims a living bride,
Night unto day is married, morn unto eventide;
Earth is a merry damsel, and heaven a knight so true,
And Earth is quite coquettish, and beseemeth in vain to sue.
Now to the application, to the reading of the roll,
To bringing thee to justice, and marshalling thy soul:
Thou art a human solo, a being cold, and lone,
Wilt have no kind companion, thou reap’st what thou hast sown.
Hast never silent hours, and minutes all too long,
And a deal of sad reflection, and wailing instead of song?
There’s Sarah, and Eliza, and Emeline so fair,
And Harriet, and Susan, and she with curling hair!
Thine eyes are sadly blinded, but yet thou mayest see
Six true, and comely maidens sitting upon the tree;
Approach that tree with caution, then up it boldly climb,
And seize the one thou lovest, nor care for space, or time!
Then bear her to the greenwood, and build for her a bower,
And give her what she asketh, jewel, or bird, or flower —
And bring the fife, and trumpet, and beat upon the drum —
And bid the world Goodmorrow, and go to glory home!
You can just enjoy “Awake ye muses nine” as a clever literary Valentine, of course, but you can also use it to teach much more. First, show your students that the whole poem is written in couplets — rhyming pairs of lines that are delightful to read aloud: divine–Valentine, swain–twain, air–fair, one–sun, and so on. The meter is not entirely regular, but the first two lines, which introduce the poem by means of a traditional invocation of the muse(s), are perfect examples of iambic hexameter. (Most of the other lines in the poem have 13 syllables rather than 12 and they exhibit a fair amount of syncopation, just like in music.)
And who are these “muses nine”? Your River Houses dictionary will answer that question and will provide you with a whole bonus sidebar on the history of the world “muse.” And don’t miss the lovely vocabulary to explore throughout: strain, damsel, swain, consort, precept, pensive, eventide, coquettish, bower, and more — wonderful words, every one!
What other literary delights and poetical productions have you been studying in your homeschool this Orion Term? 😊
❡ This is a printable lesson: Down at the bottom of this post you’ll find a custom “Print” button and icon, along with several social-media share buttons. The Print button will let you create a neat and easy-to-read copy of this little lesson, and it will even let you resize or delete elements that you may not want or need (such as images or footnotes). Give it a try today! 🖨
❡ Sing me a strain divine: 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. ❤️
❡ Literary lives: 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. ✒️
❡ Library lessons: If you’d like to test your students’ “reading” skills this week (or rather, their decipherment skills), invite them to pay an online visit to the library of Amherst College (in Emily Dickinson’s hometown) and see if they can make out the original manuscript of “Awake Ye Muses Nine” written in Dickinson’s spidery handwriting. It can be quite a challenge! 📖
❡ Here, said the year: This post is one of our regular homeschool poems-of-the-week. 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, and add your name to our River Houses mailing list to get posts like these delivered right to your mailbox every week. 🗞
❡ Support our work: If you enjoy the educational materials we distribute each week, please support our work and the noble cause of homeschooling by making a small donation as a Friend of the River Houses! Your support keeps us going and growing! 😊