Protecting kids from poetry?
I’ve blogged a bit about poetry before, as my 10yo Ethan and I read through the lovely volume Classic Poetry: An Illustrated Collection (which has apparently been recently re-published as The Walker Book of Classic Poetry and Poets). It is a chronological collection, lushly illustrated by Paul Howard, who aptly captures the period and feeling of each poem by adapting his technique and style. Although the book is specifically for children, it would be a valuable and beautiful addition to anyone’s library. I have been impressed by the depth of poetry selected by editor Michael Rosen.
Today, though, on the schedule was Edgar Allen Poe’s The Bells. As I prepared yesterday for school today, I glanced over the short verse, and found myself rather surprised by the chipper language of the poem, which evokes the peaceful, ideal imagery of a nighttime sleigh ride. I decided to Google the poem, thinking maybe it was written early in Poe’s life, before things turned so morbid and dark for him. It appears that it wasn’t.
The truth is, the collection from which we are reading has only published the first verse of a four-verse poem. The second verse is similarly optimistic, telling of wedding bells. The third verse turns in a startled direction, focusing on alarm bells which call out the horror of fire, or other such danger to which one needs to be alerted. The fourth verse finds Poe hitting his familiar chilling stride, writing of bells that portend “melancholy menace” of death. He wraps up the poem reiterating how bells can be merry, warning, or “sobbing.”
Now, not every poem in this book is cheerful; a number are despairing and death-filled. Why, now, has the editor decided to protect the readers, the children, from the study of contrasts, where one medium can be used for many and diverse purposes, much like poetry itself? Maybe its simply an issue of room in the book; he wanted to include a couple by Poe, and most of Poe’s aren’t short, and many are completely inappropriate for little ones. Maybe Rosen wanted a balance of happy poems and sad ones. Maybe he’s trying to say, “See? Poe’s not all morbid!” Who knows.
The whole thing has me deep in thought, though (as good poetry will!) about the balance I, too, seek to achieve: protecting my children, but not too much. I want to be a haven, I want our home and our family to be a haven, a place of peaceful contentment. Yet, I don’t want them blinded to realities of sin, death and destruction, nor pretend, myself, that such things don’t exist. As many things are, it’s an issue of careful parental discernment: what, and how much, and when is this right for my child?
I don’t fault Rosen’s decision too much; I’m just wondering why.