I got to do something today which I had once planned on spending much of my life doing, but never really got the chance to do after getting waylaid by children and life and my own insecurities. I got to take a kid who thinks poetry is boring and meaningless and show them the magic which is present in those short, truncated lines with the fancy words.
I made my oldest son Noah copy out the poem “The Lion of Winter” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare into his notebook as a prelude to memorizing it. Part way through this tedious task he asked, “what does this poem mean anyways?”
Well, my son, I am glad you asked! So we sat down and unpacked it together. The reliably wonderous Mr. Shakespeare began by painting a picture of dreary, lonely winter, cold and quiet but for the calls of death in the field. Then he takes us to the barren grave yard where spirits rise up not to stalk like the wolf or haunt like the screech owl, but to glide like the fairies of spring who are painting this picture. Once the way has been cleared for the fairies to enter (by sweeping behind the door), he then brings us back into those quiet rooms of winter where the fairies and elves flit like birds in the shadows and glow of the lazy winter fire.
“Do you see how he started by painting a picture that we think we know – of winter cold and lonely and empty and said, ‘there’s more here. Come and look’?” I asked Noah.
“Yeah,” he said with a bit of awe in his voice, “And I always thought poetry was boring!”
I explained how poetry was not only not boring, but if you let it and get to know it, it will change the world you live in. “Next time you’re in a room where there’s only a fire for light, you will see fairies and elves dancing across the walls and ghostly faces in the burning wood. You will see things you didn’t even know to see, because of this poem. That’s what poetry does. It tells you that hard, stinging rain when you’re in a bad mood is like the sky spitting on you and soft raindrops in the spring are like jewels dropping into puddles. It makes the whole world richer and more interesting.”
“I didn’t know poetry did that,” was his reply. I wanted to cry.
Hummmmmmn. I explained poetry to a 12 year old boy and he “got it”. It’s a good night.