The Power of Poetry

May 03, 2021 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team


For the past twenty-five years, National Poetry Month has been commemorated in April, celebrating poems and the poets who pen them. Tightly constructed, with every syllable and every word deliberately placed, poems evoke emotion. They can be serious or sad, lofty or low, romantic or ridiculous.

Poems are written for the masses as well as for the individual. They may reflect the poet’s devout faith or the culture of the day. They question, argue, and elevate. Poems are for everyone because they contemplate what it means to be human. Beyond that, though, poems offer fabulous fodder for teaching students about language.

Describing the power that poetry imparts to our students, Andrew Pudewa writes the following in his article “One Myth and Two Truths: Nurturing Competent Communicators”:

There is perhaps no greater tool than memorization to seal language patterns into a human brain, and there is perhaps nothing more effective than poetry to provide exactly what we want: reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns... By memorizing and reciting, you practically fuse neurons into permanent language storage patterns. Those patterns are then ready to be used, combined, adapted, and applied to express ideas in a myriad of ways. Additionally, because of the nature of poetry, poets are often compelled to stretch our vocabulary, utilizing words and expressions in uniquely sophisticated—but almost always correct—language patterns. A child with a rich repertoire of memorized poetry will inevitably demonstrate superior linguistic skills, both written and spoken, because of those patterns which are so deeply ingrained in the brain.

To learn even more about the impact of poetry on a student’s life, listen to Andrew’s presentation “Nurturing Competent Communicators.”

As you consider resources to use in your instruction, take a look at IEW’s program Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization. (There’s an opportunity to win your own copy in a link at the end of this post!) Each poem was carefully selected to appeal to students. The verses were chosen by Andrew Pudewa for their sophisticated syntax and expansive vocabulary. Easy to remember because of their meter and rhyme as well as their narrative qualities, these poems offer engaging ways for students to practice and learn language conventions.

There are five levels. The first four comprise poetry. The fifth features famous speeches. One favorite poem of many is “The Yak” by Hilaire Belloc. When you read it aloud, notice how the language flows off of your tongue. Pay attention too to the advanced vocabulary embedded within this humorous piece. Children love learning it!

                                                     The Yak
                                                by Hilaire Belloc

                           As a friend to the children, commend me the Yak;
                           You will find it exactly the thing;
                           It will carry and fetch, you can ride on its back,
                           Or lead it about with a string.

                           The Tartar who dwells on the plains of Tibet
                           (A desolate region of snow),
                           Has for centuries made it a nursery pet,
                           And surely the Tartar should know!

                           Then tell your papa where the Yak can be got,
                           And if he is awfully rich,
                           He will buy you the creature—or else he will not
                           (I cannot be positive which).

Three short stanzas, this poem is packed with vocabulary (“commend,” “yak,” “Tartar,” and “desolate,” just to name a few), and the whimsy, meter, and rhyme make it memorable to students. They enjoy reciting it. Notice as well that the lines comprise complete sentences, which promote greater syntactic understanding.

Who knows? Perhaps beginning the practice of memorizing poetry with your students will turn out to be a favored part of the day!

Here are some thoughts shared by others who are enjoying Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization.
Parents and teachers agree. Here are just a few testimonials about the program that we’ve received:

“The only part of school my son likes is poetry. I bought this curriculum to encourage his interest, and I’m so glad I did. The poems start out simple but funny and progress to more difficult and longer in length. My favorite aspect is the CDs in the lovely leather case. The inflections and pronunciations of Mr. Andrew are perfect, and they are extremely useful. I’m excited to utilize this program not just this school year but in the years to come.” -Tracy H.

“This is a fantastic resource: twenty passengers per year for five years, and they get progressively more difficult. We use them as copywork and memory work. Nice range of pieces, from silly poems to great words from speeches and literature.” -Sarah G.

“First of all, I love the premise of this program, which is why I ordered it. But I am thrilled with how much fun we’ve had memorizing and reciting poems to each other. This program is very simple, but really well done, and it’s one part of our day that is always looked forward to by all of us!” - Anonymous

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