The astronomical calendar tells us that fall will be coming to a close soon, but in truth that warmer season of mists and mellow fruitfulness seems well departed now. Our traditional pensive homeschool poem-of-the-week for these final autumnal days is always from Robert Frost. It’s a thoughtful read-aloud poem for you and your students as the seasons change.
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question “Whither?”
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
Great writers are also great observers, and the descriptive details in Frost’s “Reluctance” put his own observational skills on display. This is a poem about the end of autumn, just before winter begins. If you spend time in the northern fields and woods in late autumn and early winter you’ll soon notice that while most trees have lost all their leaves by the beginning of December, the oaks retain theirs through much of the winter — not as evergreens do, but simply as dead leaves that don’t fall off. (A botanist will tell you that oak leaves are marcescent — that’s a beautiful ten-dollar word to learn this week.) Their persistent leaves make oak trees easy to spot from a distance in the winter: they’re the only warm brown branches still spreading out over the crusted snow.
There’s some great intermediate-level vocabulary in this poem for your students to investigate in your family dictionary: wended, ravel, aster, witch hazel, and the marvelous quartet of hither, thither, whither, and wither. It takes a brave poet to put all four of those into one stanza, and a master poet to make them all sound perfectly natural there.
What wonderful words and poetical productions will you be studying in your homeschool this Orion 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? (I make this poem out to be ABCBDB, with three matching sounds in each stanza.) By uncovering these details of structure your students will come to appreciate good poems as carefully crafted pieces of literary labor. 📖
❡ Out through the fields and the woods: 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 Robert Frost) 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 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! 🖨
❡ 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. 🗞
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