This Sunday (December 10th) 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. It’s poem for all lovers of books and language, and a great one for your young homescholars to memorize:
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 local lawyer and a somewhat prominent state politician, 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 American writers of the nineteenth century.
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 eights-and-sixes arrangement that we’ve seen before in her poetry. 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 effect. I make it out to be ABCB DFGF, with the second and fourth lines rhyming in each stanza.
If you introduce your homeschool students to Emily Dickinson this week on the occasion of her birthday — your local library will be a great place to start — they may find that they have a loosened spirit and a new friend for life.
What wonderful words and poetical productions will you and your students be examining in your homeschool this Orion Term? 😊
❡ He ate and drank the precious words: 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. 📖
❡ Comparative literature: All writers love books, but Emily Dickinson, more than most, tended to speak about that affection in a tangible, material way. If your students like “He ate and drank the precious Words,” send them on next to another imaginative book-appreciation: “There is no Frigate like a Book.” 🔍
❡ 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. ✒️
❡ This is a printable lesson: Down at the bottom of this post you’ll find a custom “Print” button that 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! 🖨
❡ 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. 📫
❡ 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 help you create a light and easy structure for your homeschool year. Give them a try today! 🗓
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