But right away, they loved our poems. We started with kid-friendly poems by Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ogden Nash, and our favorite Hillaire Belloc. But as my children have grown, our poetry collection has as well. Now we have collections by William Shakespeare, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, and others.
I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been outside and someone starts reciting My Shadow and everyone joins in. We talk about The Vulture when someone is asking for a snack between meals. We share inside jokes like these that have grown us closer together.
Our love for poetry has expanded from simple and childish rhymes. Because of our regular diet of poetry, they can embrace the poetry we sing in our hymns as well. They’re not surprised by abbreviated words or complex word patterns.
I can assure you that my children have become and are becoming competent communicators. They have all the words (So. Many. Words.) and use them in beautiful ways (most of the time, at least). I attribute this growth to the literature we’ve read together as well as the poetry we’ve listened to and memorized. And I’m glad for that.
What I didn’t expect when I began our diet of poetry, holding my nose like I was eating overcooked broccoli, was that I would grow to love and enjoy the beauty of poetry as well. It turns out, when you can read poetry and not dissect every little thing, the words are beautiful. Poems read aloud can stir affections in a unique way. My relationship with poetry is no longer purely utilitarian. My tastes have changed.
Poetry isn’t like prose. In prose, we have few restrictions. Poetry requires fewer words to express all you want to say. It often has to fit into a certain rhyme pattern or syllable order, maybe a restricted number of lines or words. These limitations force the poet to think differently. When the writer has to be careful about every syllable, she selects her words with care and precision. Poets use the sounds of words and the imagery that words create in a way that’s more concentrated to make their point in few words but also to evoke emotion from the reader.
Whether the poet wants his reader to laugh or cry or think, he has to wrestle with his thoughts in a way that I don’t as I write this article. When we approach poetry and this different and concentrated way of thinking about the world, we can begin to think differently, too. Maybe we see joy in unexpected places. Maybe we understand a circumstance in a new light. Maybe we enjoy the Lord with greater understanding.
The beauty of poetry is not just in the words on the printed page. Poetry can affect our minds, causing us to think differently; our hearts, causing us to feel differently; and therefore our hands, causing us to act on those different thoughts and feelings. May we be willing to slow ourselves down to enjoy poetry.