Saturday, May 24, 2014

Poetry Teaches Us All

This week I had a poetry lesson with my seniors.  We studied Keats' When I Have Fears, because he's my favourite Romantic. Then we studied Yeats. I'm not actually sure why I chose Yeats. Maybe I thought it'd be quite a bit easier since the language is simple and straightforward. It went pretty smoothly, up until Friday. 
In my first class on Friday, we reviewed the poems, analysed them, and then got to the point where I felt like the students were just about finished trying to give input. We were on the last line of Yeats, here's the full poem:

He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
W. B. Yeats1865 - 1939
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
The students made some great observations and did well for ESOL seniors in high school, really for any seniors in high school. Then one girl ruined it. 
In the last five minutes of class I ask, "Who would you be willing to lay your dreams down for, for that person to walk on your dreams?" Immediately shouts of "Lover." and "Best friend!" go out. So I do a little stompy dance just to show what could happen, then I walk softly to demonstrate that either outcome isn't the most desirable for your dreams. Both shout outs are swiftly rescinded. In the last minute of class, just as I think everyone is finished responding, one girl quietly says "A parent for their child."  
I am speechless.
I stutter, "Yes, um, uh, that's...well, that's brilliant. I've never seen it, uh, interpreted that way. I... well, um, and I think that's the best idea I've heard... Uh, wow."  Yeah, super eloquent English teacher response. 
The bell rings. 
In the next class, I wait to see if any of my students come to the same enlightened conclusion...none do, nor can they think of ANY situation where they'd lay their dreams at someone's feet, let alone beneath.  I decide to go for it, and share the awesome student's perspective (of course giving full credit to the student). We have about five minutes left in class,"What if it's a parent talking to their child?" 
A girl bursts into tears. 
Bewildered, I start talking about some grammatical device in the poem so she can save face. However, I don't want to abandon the really good interpretation. I only got that one sentence out so after two minutes I go back to the parent interpretation. I re-read the last two lines asking them if they could imagine a parent doing that for their child. 
Three more girls burst into tears. Not dabbing tears. Sobbing tears. 
This was the most amazing thing EVER! My students crying because of the beauty and understanding of poetry! It was one of those rare moments where you actually feel successful as a teacher.  
So thank you Yeats. You were never my favourite. Although I have always appreciated your talent, now I appreciate it even more.  Even more so, I appreciate the student who actually shared her brilliant idea! My students are really, really smart (geniuses really), but it's so infrequent to get them to express their amazing ideas. So thank you girl who shared her poignant thoughts. 
But most of all: Thank you to my parents. Because after all, parenthood really is the truest, deepest, and greatest form of love. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank dearest daughter, for you were once a dream---but you have exceeded even what I dared to dream. And you continue to do so. And I continue to dream. Tread softly. XXOO