Tag Archives: Poetry Friday

“A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Poetry Friday ButtonFor our first six weeks school term (or more), we are memorizing “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  So far as I know, his works have passed into the public domain, so I’ll share it here in its entirety:

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real!    Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,–act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;–

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

I have fond memories of learning about Longfellow as a high school junior.  He was the subject of my first literary research paper.  I recognize the fact that his poetry has really fallen out of fashion these days, but I still like it a lot.  My girls and I were practicing it in the van the other day on the way to Bible study.  This week we’re supposed to know down through the fifth stanza:

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

What a wonderful four lines!  Of course, our recitation necessitated a discussion of the word bivouac, one of the few words I specifically remember learning the meaning of at some point during my education.  This, then, made me think of the Apostle Paul’s enduring words from 2 Corinthians 5:1:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

This passage of scripture has doubly special meaning for me because it is the passage a beloved pastor used at my papaw’s funeral.  Sharing it with my girls–the literary connection between bivouac and tent–and then the connection to the previous stanza–this encapsulates one of the things I love about homeschooling.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

I also love that Louise pointed out, after considering stanzas four and five together, that Randy Melendy from our current bedtime read-aloud, Then There Were Five, has a particular affinity for funeral marches.

How sweet it is when it all comes together.




Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art by Diane Siebert

I’ve been on a history and geography kick this National Poetry Month.  So far I’ve shared a poetry book about presidents and a poetry atlas of the United States.   Today’s pick just might be me favorite yet.  It’s actually one we’ve read before, and I thought I might’ve blogged about it before.  It turns out that I didn’t, so today’s the day.  :-)  Diane Siebert‘s author’s note at the beginning of Tour America explains that she and her husband set out on a summer tour of America that ended up lasting ten years, and these poems grew out of that experience.  The topics of the poems are iconic American sites–the Golden Grate Bridge, the Washington Monument, Niagara Falls, Las Vegas, and so on.  The poems take various forms.  Some are short and some are long.  What they all have in common, though, is that each one paints a picture of something distinctively American.  Each two-page spread features a unique piece of artwork by Stephen T. Johnson, a poem, a little inset map of both the U.S. and the state in which the featured locale exists, and a rectangle of information about the place.  My personal favorite poem is the first one in the book, entitled “American Towns.”  In it, Siebert highlights some of the many interestingly named towns in America:

On open plains, in deserts dry,

Near ocean shores, on mountains high,

Beside the lakes and perched on hills

Are ‘burgs and ‘dales and ‘vales and ‘villes–

The towns across the USA

Whose names are fun to see and say:


Cocoan, Toast, Teaticket, Tea;

Justice, Hope, Equality.


And so it goes for forty-four more lines.  I love reading this one aloud.

If you have older children who appreciate and enjoy American history and geography–just Americana, really, this book is for you.  Highly Recommended.  (Chronicle Books, 2011)

1-IMG_3173-001Every Friday this month I’ve shared a poetry book we’ve enjoyed during our poetry tea times.  I’m linking this post up to Poetry Friday at The Opposite of Indifference.

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Little Poems for Tiny Ears by Lin Oliver

Little Poems for Tiny Ears by Lin Oliver is a new poetry book for the youngest listeners.  This is a collection of twenty-three poems on various baby-approved topics like body parts, noises, first words, playing peekaboo, taking a bath, etc.  Lin Oliver’s verse is mostly simple and sing-song, which is ideal for the target audience.   Some of the poems would make good ones to memorize and recite as mom or dad do that particular thing with baby–there’s one about being buckled into a carseat, for example, that would make a fun action rhyme.  It ends like this:

Buckle, click, I’m safely in–

Haul out, folks, let’s take a spin.

Cute, huh?

Tomie dePaola’s illustrations are easily-recognizable (dare I say iconic?).  This little book would make an excellent baby shower or birthday gift.  My only criticism of it is that, given the target audience, it would hold up much better as a board book.   This one’s lots of fun.  (Penguin, 2014)


I’m sharing a poetry book every Friday this month in honor of National Poetry Month.  I’m also linking this post up at Poetry Friday, hosted this week at Life on the Deckle Edge.

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My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States

Last week I featured a poetry book that spotlights all of the American presidents, and this week I’m sharing another substantial poetry book.  My America:  A Poetry Atlas of the United States is compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Stephen Alcorn.  The book is divided into eight sections based on the regions of the U.S.: Northeast States, the Capital, Southeast States, Great Lakes States, Plains States, Mountain States, Southwest States, and Pacific Coast States.   Each section opens with a map and table of facts about each state in the region.  This is followed by six to eight poems for each region (excepting the one poem for D.C. in the Capital section).  Many of the poets whose works appear in this volume are unknown to me, but a few are readily recognizable:  Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, and our old friend, Anonymous.  :-)  Lee Bennett Hopkins (who even has an award named after him) has a couple of poems in here, as do a couple of older children’s poets I recognize.

Of course, my girls immediately looked up Alabama to see if our state is represented by a poem, and indeed it is:  “Alabama Earth (At Booker Washington’s Grave)” by Langston Hughes.   The fact that we actually visited Booker T. Washington’s gravesite and home a few years ago made this poem doubly meaningful to us.   The final lines of this poem are particularly compelling:

While over Alabama earth

These words are gently spoken:

Serve–and hate will die unborn.

Love–and chains are broken.

My personal favorite is from the Northeast section of the anthology, a poem entitled “Frost’s Farm Road” by James Hayford.   Robert Frost is my favorite poet, so I naturally love that this poem is so reminiscent of Frost’s style, from its beginning–

I pocketed a pebble

From Frost’s farm road at Ripton,

to its end–

In that high circle of his

In or just under the Great World.

Happy sigh.  

Stephen Alcorn’s illustrations are painted using casein on paper with no “preliminary pencil sketches” so as to “surrender to the magic of each poem,” with each illustration “reworked” over time to the lovely, textured illustration reproduced in the book.

This is an altogether lovely book, one that invites slow, thoughtful reading.  It, too, would make a great accompaniment to a history or geography study.  Highly Recommended.  (Simon & Schuster, 2000)


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I’m blogging about poetry every Friday this month, and I’m linking this post up to Poetry Friday, hosted this week by Today’s Little Ditty.

Rutherford B., Who Was He? by Marilyn Singer

I’ve wanted to review Rutherford B., Who Was He?:  Poems About Our Presidents for a long time.   I requested my library buy it way back when I first heard of it last summer, and I even tried to nominate it for a Cybils.  (It was published after the cutoff date, so I will be nominating it this fall!)  Nana bought the girls a copy at her school’s bookfair, and they’ve read it over and over again.  They’ve shared poems from it at poetry tea time, but this is really the first time I’ve had the opportunity to sit down and really look at it myself.

Well!  What a treasure this book is!  Singer begins with a little introductory poem that includes this verse:

Who were these men?

Not just names in a book:

the ones who stood firm or preferred compromise,

the ones of great stature (though not always size),

the ones we’ve forgotten, the ones we still prize.

What follows are thirty-some-odd poems in which every president is represented–every single one, from Washington:

He agreed to father a newborn nation–

and never took a real vacation.

to Polk:

A powerful president with lots of gall.

Made four promises, kept them all.

to Obama:

One thing is certain,

on one thing we agree–

as our first black president,

he indeed made history.

and everyone in between.  Some of the presidents are lumped in together, into one poem, especially when they’re closely related to each other.  (For example, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan all share one poem which is about all of their various approaches to the coming dissolution of the Union.)  A few of the poems are standouts in terms of form.  For example, Richard Nixon’s poem is a reverso (see an example of one here on Singer’s website).  Singer’s poetry, coupled with John Hendrix’s illustrations and typography (check it out here), really make this a must-read book.  (I’ve mentioned before how much I love John Hendrix’s work. )  Hendrix incorporates quotes from the presidents with his own brand of humorous illustrations which are caricature-like and support and enhance the message of the poem.  Back matter includes a paragraph per president that sheds a little more light on his time in office and provides context for the poems.  Get this book if you just like poetry or if you want to give your American history studies a bit of oomph.  Highly Recommended.  (Disney Hyperion, 2013)


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I’m blogging about poetry every Friday this month, and I’m linking this post up to Poetry Friday, hosted this week by The Poem Farm.