Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Poetry for Homeschoolers, part 3

     In my two previous posts on this topic I discussed criteria to use in choosing poems for Catholic home schooled students.  There’s another very important consideration, one that functions mostly on the level of the unconscious: what is the form of the poem telling them?   Poems, even poems that we don’t think of as “narrative”, tell a story: there is a beginning and an end.  There should be a coherent progression from the one to the other.  Again, I am not suggesting that images or information cannot be fragmentary or obscure; after all, part of what draws us into a poem is the challenge of putting the pieces together, which is why a poem is not just a story but an experience.
What sort of experience, then, is the poem creating for them?   My point is that we ought to be able to put the pieces together: there must be coherence.  Just as a piece of music that ends abruptly, or on a dissonant note, leaves us with a dissatisfied feeling that the music is incomplete, so too a poem that does not combine its elements in a meaningful way.
     By way of example, we might also want to consider church architecture.  The church building
Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Lewiston, ME
was traditionally considered a microcosm, literally  a mini-universe (from the Greek micros = small, cosmos = universe).  The harmony of the architectural elements working together was intended to represent the coherence of God’s creation, with columns and soaring arches drawing our eyes upward past stars and angels, all the way to the apex representing the Creator Himself.  Most of the time, of course, we don’t consciously analyze the architecture, but we feel the order and experience it on an unconscious level.  The medieval cathedrals have been called ‘sermons in stone” precisely because they show worshippers, at a very deep level, the beauty and order of God’s universe.  One of the chief criticisms of much modern church architecture is not only that it is ugly, but that by employing disjointed and seemingly random elements it preaches an incoherent and meaningless universe.  In fact, its incoherence is in large part why it is ugly, because order is an essential element in true beauty (an observation which would have been considered obvious and unremarkable up until a century or so ago).

     "The Heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands" -Psalm 19:1. As with the church building, so with the poem.  It can teach our children, on the deepest level, either that the universe is a coherent and beautiful place, even if stained by original sin; on the other hand, it can create an experience of a world that is random, meaningless and fragmentary.  If we want our children to become adults who feel at home in a universe that “proclaims the glory of God”, we should immerse them in poetry of the first sort.