Saturday, December 02, 2006

Pure Poetry

Every once in awhile, homeschoolers experience shining moments that feel like pure poetry, and today we had one of them. As Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, we read poetry on a regular basis, focusing on one poet at a time to get a picture of an individual poet’s style. Right now, Rudyard Kipling is our subject.

Pamela fell in love with Kipling’s work through her favorite media, videos, ala Disney’s The Jungle Book. One of her first video vocal self-stimulation phrases was Baloo’s mournful, “Mowgli, Mowgli, come back!” When she was five-years old, she would say this to console herself whenever she felt sad. She tapped into Baloo’s emotion, but did not realize at the time the words made sense only to people who knew her.

She adored the first Kipling book I read to the children: Just So Stories. Pamela was eleven-years old and very much language delayed. I read from an older version of the book, beautifully illustrated. We acted out many of the stories with stuffed animals to bring them to life. Her favorite one was How the Camel Got His Hump. She adopted the camel’s phrase almost immediately and, whenever she balked at a task, she cried, “Humph!” like the camel. This was her first vocal stim from a book too.

The next book we read was, of course, The Jungle Book; the differences between the book and the movie were startling. We read both books about life in the jungle and were surprised to find so many stories that were not about Mowgli. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is neatly tucked away into this book! The story we related to the most was The White Seal because we were living in the Shumagin Islands of Alaska, not far from the story’s setting, the Island of St. Paul. David, Pamela's younger brother, appreciated The Spring Running from The Second Jungle Book the most because it opened a door for us to discuss puberty and the angst, mood swings, and depression that can come with it. Right now, we are working our way through Kim and Kipling’s poetry.

The first moment of joy came when we read The Cat That Walked by Himself. We all identified our two dogs with the characters in the poem. Our obnoxious hyper-dog has the personality of pussy, while our pliable, laid-back, elderly dog seems much like Binkie. So, we substituted our dogs' names and reread the poem, which tickled her.

The Beginning of the Armadillos was exciting for it was an opportunity for Pamela to show she has gone beyond literal thinking. She knew right away that the poem was set in South America, even though Kipling does not mention the continent by name. With only a little bit of hinting, she gleaned that the Don and Magdalena were ships.

Pamela had a chance to stretch in our final poem for the day, A Nativity (1914-1918). To help her get into the spirit of the piece, I highlighted the poem’s two voices in two different colors. Pamela read parts of the poem reflecting the Nativity, recognizing the story of the birth of Jesus almost immediately. I read the part of the mother of a fallen soldier in a very tragic, sad voice. At first, Pamela thought it was a story about a lost child. Then I reminded her that World War I started in 1914 and ended in 1918. We spent the rest of the time analyzing what had happened to the soldier, whose mother mourns his death.

The Babe was laid in the Manger
Between the gentle kine --
All safe from cold and danger --
“But it was not so with mine,
(With mine! With mine!)
Is it well with the child, is it well?”
The waiting mother prayed.
“For I know not how he fell,
And I know not where he is laid.”

A Star stood forth in Heaven;
The Watchers ran to see
The Sign of the Promise given --
“But there comes no sign to me.
(To me! To me!)
“My child died in the dark.
Is it well with the child, is it well?
There was none to tend him or mark,
And I know not how he fell.”

The Cross was raised on high;
The Mother grieved beside --
“But the Mother saw Him die
And took Him when He died.
(He died! He died!)
“Seemly and undefiled
His burial-place was made --
Is it well, is it well with the child?
For I know not where he is laid.”

On the dawning of Easter Day
Comes Mary Magdalene;
But the Stone was rolled away,
And the Body was not within --
(Within! Within!)
“Ah, who will answer my word?
The broken mother prayed.
“They have taken away my Lord,
And I know not where He is laid.”

The Star stands forth in Heaven.
The watchers watch in vain
For Sign of the Promise given
Of peace on Earth again --
(Again! Again!)
“But I know for Whom he fell” --
The steadfast mother smiled,
“Is it well with the child -- is it well?
It is well -- it is well with the child!”

At first, David thought the poem was about a child who died young. I pointed out the title to him, and he made the connection immediately. He thought this poem was one of the best he had ever read. It reminded him of his great-grandfather, who died in World War II. His great-grandfather fell fighting the Russians, and his fellow soldiers buried him in a mass grave near St. Petersburg. David’s great-grandmother was thankful they returned his wedding band to her. The poem helped us tap into the feelings of the family left behind, wondering where their loved one was laid. I asked David what he thought Kipling by meant the last line of the poem, and he interpreted it as an allusion to heaven.

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