A season of poetry

November 29, 2012|Lisa Prejean

I walked into the student lounge after school one day this week and was greeted with "Hey, Mrs. Prejean, Hope is the thing with feathers!' "

I smiled, knowing that one of my students was teasing me with the first line of the poem he was memorizing for English class.

As we were preparing for our school Poetry Out Loud recitation contest. Each student was required to memorize two poems.

There was the usual moaning and groaning about having to learn poetry: "Tell me again, why do we need to do this?"

Or, the more blatant: "I hate poetry."

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, though, the students have complained less and studied more.

The transformation has been beautiful to watch ... and hear.

Melodic sounds of teenage voices reciting famous works have drifted across the rows of chairs in my classroom. Students have talked about the poems they chose and why they made those selections. They started to connect themes in poetry with the time periods during which the poems were written.

In class, we've talked about the elegance of poetry and how it is different from prose. (Prose is writing in paragraph form, such as an essay or a newspaper column.)

Poets use compact and concise language to express their ideas, and sometimes the intent is difficult to decipher. Sounds and meanings of words can create the feeling or the emotion that a poet intends.

This is particularly evident during the Christmas season, when poetry can be found in carols, holiday movies and on Christmas cards.

From the haunting tones of "O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!" to the lively notes of "Ding dong, merrily on high, the Christmas bells are ringing; Ding dong joyously reply, The angels all are singing," the words have meaning due to their sound and the message they bring.

To truly appreciate these seasonal lines of poetry, consider these concepts from "Successful College Writing" by Kathleen T. McWhorter:

  •  Read a poem through and try to get a sense of its theme.
  •  Consider the punctuation used and let it be a guide for charting the poem.
  •  Visualize what the poem is about.
  •  Read the poem several more times.
  •  Check unfamiliar references. Use a dictionary or a thesaurus to help.
  •  Identify the speaker and tone. What kind of person wrote the poem and what emotion was that person feeling at the time?
  • With a closer examination, poetry might not seem so scary after all, especially at this time of year:

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay, Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day."

Here's wishing you a very poetic Christmas season.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send email to her at

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