Five Fabulous Poems to Enjoy with Your Children in April
Poetry recitation and memorization can be a delightful addition to your homeschool routine!
April is National Poetry Month. If you needed an extra excuse to find time to include poems in your homeschool day, what could be better than an entire month devoted to poetry?!
Does including poetry in your homeschool feel overwhelming? Maybe you wonder how to pick the best poems or worry that if you don’t have a host of supplemental activities planned the time will have been wasted.
Enjoying poetry in your homeschool day doesn’t have to be complicated! In fact, the best way to start is to just pick a poem and read it aloud. That’s it! Pick something that gets you excited, Mama. Communicate that enthusiasm to your kids.
Read it aloud once today. Read it aloud again tomorrow. Change things up and add in a silly poem some days.
Poetry and other beautiful memory work really can be that simple.
My five children range in age from 5 to 15, and poetry recitation and memory work has been a part of our homeschool morning routine for many years now. I print off each month’s memory work selection so each child has their own copy, and we just read it aloud together.
It’s amazing how quickly the words sink down into their hearts and become part of our family culture!
Here are five of our family’s favorite poetry selections we’ve memorized and recited together over the years. I gave a brief introduction to each poem to help guide your homeschool discussions.
These particular poems are also chosen to be seasonally appropriate for April!
“Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
Where are my fellow baseball fans? Spring means baseball in the Sloan family, and “Casey at the Bat” is a quintessential American folk ballad. A ballad is a narrative poem that tells a story in several short stanzas. It retells a culture’s folktales, often through the oral tradition. Thayer, a humor columnist, wrote and published this poem in 1888. It has quickly become known as the most famous baseball poem of all time and is perhaps one of the most recognizable of American folk poetry. If you have a child who thinks poems sound too much like tea cups and floral chintz, why don’t you take the poem outside and read it dramatically while playing catch in the yard? You can find a video of this poem being read here.
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood four to two with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought if only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”
“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clinched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.
“My Shadow” by Robert Louis Stevenson
This poem is one of my children’s favorites! It is especially fun for younger children to recite. Have your children go out and observe their shadow at different times of day and compare it to the description of the shadow’s changing shape in the poem. You can see my daughter recite this poem here.
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an India-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
“Amoretti LXVIII: Most Glorious Lord of Life” by Edmund Spenser
Easter kicks off the month of April in such a glorious way. Wouldn’t it be lovely to reflect on the glories of the resurrection all month? Edmund Spenser, most commonly associated with The Faerie Queen (one of C.S. Lewis’s favorite works), wrote a series of sonnets, most of which correspond to Scripture passages. Notice how the religious theme of this poem transforms to a romantic theme in the final lines. Read Ephesians 5:30-32 and discuss why he did so. You can also learn this poem set to music since it has been included in several hymnals. This is also an excellent poem to introduce poetic ideas like alliteration and rhyme scheme! Notice how the rhyme at the end of the 4th line of each quatrain carries over into the next: abab bcbc cdcd ee.
Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day,
Didst make thy triumph over death and sin:
And having harrow’d hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we for whom thou diddest die,
Being with thy dear blood clean wash’d from sin,
May live for ever in felicity.
And that thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love thee for the same again:
And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
With love may one another entertain.
So let us love, dear love, like as we ought,
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.
“Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five…” do you recognize that famous line? The American War for Independence began in Lexington and Concord, and this poem by Longfellow is often the way we remember it. Now, of course, Longfellow took several liberties with historical accuracy. Compare the events in the poem with the historic account given here. You can also read a letter Revere wrote to his friend in circa 1798. When you realize that Longfellow wrote this poem on the eve of the American Civil War, you begin to realize that he was thinking about broader issues than the actual ride of Paul Revere. If you have older children, look for themes and ideas that had broader implications for his time. If you have younger children (or if you just want to enjoy a rollicking good time), simply read it aloud together and dramatically reenact it in your living room. You may have to read it several times so everyone gets a chance to be Paul Revere. Watch a video reading of this poem here.
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”
Then he said “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!
A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
Don’t forget: Scripture includes poetry, too! And memorizing inspired poetry certainly “counts” for your homeschool poetry studies. This passage from the Psalms is one of my favorites. In our family, we have found that reciting lengthier Scripture passages responsively is a helpful tool to memorizing. Each of us takes turns being the person to read the light print, and the rest of us respond with the bold print. Give it a try and see if it helps in your homeschool!
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
What poem will you memorize this April in your homeschool?
Amy Sloan and her husband John are 2nd-generation homeschoolers to five children from 5 to 15 years old. The Sloan family adventures together in NC where they pursue a restfully-classical education by grace alone. If you hang out with Amy for any length of time, you’ll quickly learn that she loves overflowing book stacks, giant mugs of coffee, beautiful memory work, and silly memes. Amy writes at HumilityandDoxology.com and hosts the weekly “Homeschool Conversations” podcast.