Poetry Study Quotes

Selected quotes from Charlotte Mason on Poetry Study.
Annotations in [  ] by Real Living Life.

“Poetry takes first rank as a means of intellectual culture. Goethe tells us that we ought to see a good picture, hear good music, and read some good poetry every day; and, certainly, a little poetry should form part of the evening lecture.” – Volume 5 p. 244

“The poets give us the best help in this [moral] kind of teaching;” – Volume 3 p.130

“…knowledge of man, to be arrived at through history, poetry, tale; through the customs of cities and nations, civics; through the laws of self-government, morals.” – Volume 6 p.289

“Poetry.— Poetry is, perhaps, the most searching and intimate of our teachers. To know about such a poet and his works may be interesting, as it is to know about repoussé work; but in the latter case we must know how to use the tools before we get joy and service out of the art. Poetry, too, supplies us with tools for the modelling of our lives, and the use of these we must get at for ourselves. The line that strikes us as we read, that recurs, that we murmur over at odd moments—this is the line that influences our living, if it speak only—

                        “Of old, unhappy, far-off things,

                        And battles long ago.”

A couplet such as this, though it appear to carry no moral weight, instructs our conscience more effectually than many wise saws. As we ‘inwardly digest,’ reverence comes to us unawares, gentleness, a wistful tenderness towards the past, a sense of continuance, and of a part to play that shall not be loud and discordant, but of a piece with the whole. This is one of the ‘lessons never learned in schools’ which comes to each of us only as we discover it for ourselves.

            Many have a favourite poet for a year or two, to be discarded for another and another. Some are happy enough to find the poet of their lifetime in Spencer, Wordsworth, Browning, for example; but, whether it be for a year of a life, let us mark as we read, let us learn and inwardly digest. Note how good this last word is. What we digest we assimilate, take into ourselves, so that it is part and parcel of us, and no longer separable.” – Volume 4 Book 2 p.71-72

“Intellect cannot walk here without Imagination, and, also, he does well to have, at his other side, that colleague of his, whom we will call the Beauty Sense. It is a great thing to be accustomed to good society, and, when Intellect walks abroad in this fair kingdom, he becomes intimate with the best of all ages and all countries. Poets and novelists paint pictures for him, while Imagination clears his eyes so that he is able to see those pictures: they fill the world, too, with deeply interesting and delightful people who live out their lives before his eyes. He has a multitude of acquaintances and some friends who tell him all their secrets. He knows Miranda and the melancholy Jaques and the terrible Lady Macbeth; Fenella and that Fair Maid of Perth, and a great many people, no two alike, live in his thoughts.” – Volume 4 p.40

“… it is suggested that in teaching a child to read, you should “be careful to choose lines that will interest and amuse him and appeal to his imagination.” By all means. It is most important that we should do so. But what are the lines instanced?

The friendly cow all red and white
I love with all my heart,
She gives me cream with all her might,
To eat with my apple tart.

The appeal here is I am afraid more to the stomach than to the imagination! but why, why, in the name of all that is beautiful are we to waste our own time and our children’s in teaching them absolute rubbish, which does not convey one beautiful image or idea and is not even strictly true or fact? Surely in all our rich and varied literature we can fine simple little poems, tender and dainty, which will appeal just as much to the little reader and will not tend to vitiate his taste. Of course the object in the verse instanced was to teach the child a variety of words in a bright form, but as the two objects of reading and learning by heart are attained at the same time, it seems a pity that the verse learnt should not be worth learning; and there are any number of really pretty little “animal” poems which would answer the purpose as far as the reading was concerned and be a real gain to the child. For instance, there are many of Jane and Ann Taylor’s poems, part of Wordsworth’s ” Pet Lambs”, poems like “The Fieldmouse,” and “The Sparrow,” whose authors are unknown to me, and many of Mary Howitt’s poems, perhaps best of all her “Woodmouse.”

Do you know little Wood-mouse,
That pretty little thing;
It lives among the forest leaves,
Beside the forest spring,” etc.

Such a poem appeals at once to the child’s taste for what is pretty and refined in expression and is as different from “The Friendly Cow,” as Goldsmith’s “Babes in the Woods”:

These pretty Babes with hand in hand
Went wandering up and down;
But never more they saw the Man
Approaching from the Town.

is from Dr. Johnson’s

I put my hat upon my head,
And walked into the Strand,
And there I met another man
Whose hat was in his hand.

The real difficulty lies in the fact that so very few “grown-up” people know or care anything about poetry themselves, or can in the least differentiate between what is good and what is bad, and as it is very difficult, though by no means impossible, to acquire a true taste and instinct for it in later life, it follows that most people shamelessly admit that they know nothing about it, and hint, if they do not state openly, that they consider it a waste of time. Yet these same people would never venture to avow a distaste for music or pictures. It is partly fashion and partly want of training, and against both these difficulties we parents who do want our children to be filled with the love of beauty in all its noblest forms must set ourselves with all our heart. We must train ourselves in the first place; it must be our aim to know at least all the best poetry in our own language—not to be contented with a few of the easier poems of Browning who, strangely enough, is the one poet read by most intelligent people,—nor with Tennyson, whom we read because we like to have our own thoughts put into musical language—nor with Mr. Stephen Phillips, whom we read because he is new and fashionable. These are good, of course—but all poetry is not summed up even in Browning. Have we never heard of Milton, and Coleridge, and Keats?” – Parents Review Article, Volume 12, 1901, The Teaching of Poetry to Children, Mrs Simpson

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