UMMERTIME BRINGS A CLEAN SLATE for homeschool planning. I am, dear reader, a planning “nerd” and take great pleasure in the process: buying new supplies, meticulously going through and choosing “living books” 1 for next year’s reading, creating each child a schedule for the entire year, assembling each child’s binder filled with hymns, chants, folk songs, poems, and recitation pieces, printing out artist study pieces, pre-reading, and so much more. It is a labor of love!
About three weeks ago I began compiling poems for my eldest daughter’s (6th grade) poetry study. She studies one poet per term and focuses on memorizing a few of his/her poems. Next year she will read Robert Frost. We seek to share feasts of beautiful lines, in this case describing nature: forests of birch trees.
Below is an excerpt from Frost’s “Birches” which I selected for next year’s poetry study. This is only an appetizer of the feast at our school table. Bon appétit!
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
In these lines we are lamenting. We have tears in our twig-whipped eyes, where paths are absent in our journey, where for whatever reason, we are the ones who have to blaze ahead. So much of my own personal journey as a Catholic rediscovering the patrimony of my faith has been figuring out how to walk the right ways of worship, the right ways of mothering, and most pertinent to this post, how to walk the right way of educating my own children.
Dear reader, this writer’s eyes have watered to the point of wanting “to get away from it”, this sometimes lonely homeschooling!
But summer! This is a time of recharging batteries and fallow rest. This planning time preparing me for teaching in the Fall. Because covid or no covid, this home school will open this Fall.
In addition to poetry, my children work on recitation pieces throughout the year. Recitation, simply defined, is teaching children how to speak beautifully. The educator Charlotte Mason explained that “the child should speak beautiful thoughts so beautifully, with such delicate rendering of each nuance of meaning, that he becomes to the listener the interpreter of the author’s thought.” 2 One of the our recitation pieces for next year will be the hymn “Pange Lingua” written by St. Thomas Aquinas and translated by Fr. Edward Caswall into English.
There’s too much to say about these lines, I am not worthy even of an introduction. So I’ll just rest assured that my homeschool education goals here align with Saint Pope John Paul II: “Let us make our own the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an eminent theologian and an impassioned poet of Christ in the Eucharist, and turn in hope to the contemplation of that goal to which our hearts aspire in their thirst for joy and peace.” 3
Sing, my tongue, the Savior’s glory,
Of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
Of the Blood, all price exceeding,
Shed by our Immortal King,
Destined, for the world’s redemption,
From a noble Womb to spring.
Of a pure and spotless Virgin
Born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
Stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
Then He closed in solemn order
Wondrously His Life of woe.
On the night of that Last Supper,
Seated with His chosen band,
He, the Paschal Victim eating,
First fulfills the Law’s command;
Then as Food to all his brethren
Gives Himself with His own Hand.
Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
By His Word to Flesh He turns;
Wine into His Blood He changes:
What though sense no change discerns.
Only be the heart in earnest,
Faith her lesson quickly learns.
Down in adoration falling,
Lo, the sacred Host we hail,
Lo, o’er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail:
Faith for all defects supplying,
When the feeble senses fail.
To the Everlasting Father
And the Son who comes on high
With the Holy Ghost proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might and endless majesty.
My children can sing the hymn but simply reciting the words will be a great exercise in thinking about what we are saying and learning how to express them, without the “crutch” of music. This is quite a difficult task, when you think about it!
Writing about the essential role of poetry in the life of education, educator John Senior wrote that “Poems are the food of faith.” Furthermore, “they operate on the level of the intuitive, experiential, loving and connatural, communicating the true, good and beautiful, and thus launching us towards God.” 4
For my homeschool classroom, with eight and six-year-olds and Legos all around the living room, I won’t expect an explication of meter and rhyming scheme (yet). But as everyone, from the youngest to the oldest (me) chant and read and sing the words of the saint, I can be assured that “poetry disposes to faith not by persuasion but participation.”
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 “Living books” are the core of a Charlotte Mason curriculum. They are the books read, or spines, to learn about all that is true, good, and beautiful. To learn more about them from “A Delectable Education Podcast”, go here.
2 To learn more about the art of recitation, as explained by Charlotte Mason, from “A Delectable Education Podcast”, go here. This specific quote can be found in Charlotte Mason’s Home Education, Volume 1, page 223.
3 We named our second son after Saint Thomas Aquinas. Here’s some reasons we admire him and why we think you should too! Link to article about our debt to the saint and doctor here.
4 These quotes come from John Senior and the Restoration of Realism by Father Francis Bethel, O.S.B. of Clear Creek Abbey. In this book Father Bethel describes the life and pedagogical philosophies of John Senior, including an entire chapter on “The Poetic Mode of Knowledge.”Opinions by blog authors do not necessarily represent the views of Corpus Christi Watershed.