". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

2015 Reading Challenge 4-Month Update

Since February, I have finished two more books and have another in progress. Looking for Alaska is done (I appreciated it, but didn't like it nearly as much as The Fault in Our Stars), as is LadyLike (previously unnamed mystery book). Moreover, a review of LadyLike has been written, submitted and accepted by Touchstone magazine! I think it will be published in the July/August issue. (Woot.) 

I am now reading Pride and Prejudice, one of the re-reads on the list. It is one of those books I read years ago because as an English major I needed to. I didn't particularly enjoy it at the time. This time around is going better--I am understanding more the enthusiasm some of my friends have for Austen. But I still don't think I will ever be a huge fan.  

All in all, I don't have quite as much to show for the last two months as I did in February. But it has been a very hectic time and summer is coming. I will need to pick up my pace to finish my list by the end of the year!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Luther on the Importance of Literature

I am persuaded that without knowledge of literature, pure theology cannot at all endure, just as heretofore, when letters have declined and lain prostrate, theology, too, has wretchedly fallen and lain prostrate; nay, I see that there has never been a great revelation of the Word of God unless he has first prepared the way by the rise and prosperity of languages and letters, as though they were John the Baptists. There is, indeed, nothing that I have less wish to see done against our young people than that they should omit to study poetry and rhetoric. Certainly it is my desire that there shall be as many poets and rhetoricians as possible, because I see that by these studies, as by no other means, people are wonderfully fitted for the grasping of sacred truth and for handling it skillfully and happily. To be sure, 'Wisdom maketh the tongues of those who cannot speak eloquent,' but the gift of tongues is not to be despised. Therefore I beg of you that at my request (if that has any weight) you will urge your young people to be diligent in the study of poetry and rhetoric. As Christ lives, I am often angry with myself that my age and my manner of life do not leave me any time to busy myself with the poets and orators. I had bought me a Homer that I might become a Greek. But I have worried you enough with these little things. Think as well of Luther as you can of your Captiva, and farewell, strong in Christ." 

Luther's Correspondence and Other Contemporary Letters, Vol. 2, pp. 176-77, Letter to Eoban Hess, March 29, 1523

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 13

One of the fundamental tools of any poet, writer or speaker (that pretty much includes all of us!) is connotation. Connotation refers to the emotional content or "baggage" carried by a word, whereas denotation refers to a word's objective or "dictionary" meaning. Some words are naturally more connotative than others, and some are more denotative. For example, the word "house" is more denotative, signifying a dwelling place, whereas the word "home" is more connotative, suggesting not just a dwelling place but one that is safe and welcoming. So if you wish to express the idea of "house" in a way that emphasizes its positive associations, you might use the word "home" instead. On the other hand, if you want to use a word that does not have positive associations, you might stick with the more objective "house," or you might pick a word with a negative connotation, such as "shack."

Of course, individuals may have different associations for words based on their own experiences. Someone who grew up in a home that was marked by abuse may have a different reaction to the word. But we can make generalizations about connotations of words that grow out of the experience of the majority of people in a particular group or culture.

Closely related to connotation and denotation is tone. Tone is the attitude of the writer or speaker towards his subject. More denotative word choice contributes to a more objective (emotionless) tone. More connotative word choice contributes to a more subjective (emotional) tone.

Below are two poems about snow. What is the tone of each? What words, through their connotations, help create that tone?

"Snow Flakes" - Emily Dickinson

I counted till they danced so
Their slippers leaped the town,
And then I took a pencil
To note the rebels down.
And then they grew so jolly
I did resign the prig,
And ten of my once stately toes

Are marshalled for a jig! 

"October Snow" - Lew Sarett

Swiftly the blizzard stretched a frozen arm
From out the hollow night- 
Stripping the world of all her scarlet pomp,
And muffling her in white.

Dead white the hills; dead white the soundless plain;
Dead white the blizzard's breath- 
Heavy with hoar that touched each woodland thing
With a white and silent death.

In inky stupor, along the drifted snow,
The sluggish river rolled- 
A numb black snake caught lingering in the sun

By autumn's sudden cold.

"Snow Storm" - Igor Medvedev

Learning Has Nothing to Do with Age

Evan started swimming lessons last week. He has taken lessons before and has some basic skills but is behind where most kids are by this age. This is largely due to the fact that we are not a big swimming family. Nor are we a big soccer family, a big baseball family, or a big [fill in the blank with the physical activity of your choice] family. We have always tried to have our kids do something physical, but jocks we are not and never will be.

For lessons we are going to a local swim school that offers classes during the day all year long. Evan is taking class twice per week. One of the classes is made up of him and three adorable, tiny little girls that barely come up to his belly button. When Evan and his classmates climb out of the pool to walk to the diving board it looks like a scene out of Gulliver's Travels. The other class has several boys that are a tiny bit bigger, but not much. In fact, Evan is by far the oldest child in the entire place both days that we go to class.

Evan has not uttered a single word of concern about being in a class with younger children. I don't think it has occurred to him that some kids might be bothered or embarrassed about the situation. I attribute this to homeschooling. He simply does not equate learning with age but understands that people learn at different paces and different times according to their readiness and their circumstances. This comes of growing up in a house where different-aged people learn together all the time and where it is not unusual for someone younger to be "ahead" of someone older. (Exhibit A: his mother, who is still trying to learn the Small Catechism that his brother and sister mastered years ago.)

Let's hear it (again) for homeschooling.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Of Mommies and Babies and Moments

Last week I did some piano accompanying for a local school. On Tuesday I went to the school for several hours in the morning. At one point, between rehearsals, the choir director went to her office and returned excitedly, cell phone in hand. "I just got a text from the babysitter! My baby just rolled over for the first time!" She was thrilled, and if she felt any sadness at missing this milestone, she didn't show it.

On Saturday I drove almost two hours to meet the same director and her choirs at a choral festival in a different city. I left at 5:45 in the morning and returned five hours later. The choir director had told me at our Tuesday rehearsal that the school buses would be leaving at 5:15 a.m. and not returning until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. since after the festival the students would be spending the day at a nearby amusement park. That mommy who missed her baby rolling over on Tuesday spent all of Saturday, her supposed "day off," apart from her baby.

When I had my first child I was teaching high school English. I would usually leave for school at 7:00 a.m. so as to allow myself sufficient time to drive to work (a 30-minute drive) and prepare for the day before students came. Leaving as soon as I was allowed to do so at the end of the day, I would get home at about 4:15. I am thankful that after my baby was born he did not have to spend time in day care or with paid babysitters, as my husband's schedule at the time allowed him to care for the baby several days per week and my mom watched him the other days. That first day I drove away at 7:00 a.m. after six weeks' maternity leave, knowing I would not return for over nine hours, I could hardly drive for the tears. But at least I got to come home after school, and I got my weekends off (albeit with plenty of grading brought home). I can't imagine having to go back to school for evening or weekend events (common for public school music teachers). By God's grace this situation lasted only about six months, as the summer after my first child was born my freelance musician husband received a full-time job offer, whereupon we decided that I would no longer work full-time. From then on I have been a full-time stay-at-home mom/part-time wage-earner. Having experienced what it was like to leave my baby for over 40 hours per week, I have never looked back nor regretted that decision.

To you mommies who are staying home with babies: may God strengthen you for these very hard days, and may He grant many moments to remind you why it's all worth it.

To you mommies who are spending days away from your babies, missing too many moments but doing the best you can with the situation you have been given: may God grant excellent caregivers to watch over your babies while you're away, and may He minimize the time you have to spend apart from your children. As much as possible, babies should be with their mommies. The moments are too quickly gone.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 12

A literary technique that is commonly used in both poetry and prose is that of symbolism. A symbol is something that has both literal and figurative meaning. In other words, a symbol is both an actual physical object and something else that it stands for. It is different from a metaphor or simile because it is not a comparison between two things but instead a single thing with multiples levels of meaning. Some symbols are fairly obvious, easy to understand, and common to many writers. For example, the color white is often used to symbolize purity or innocence, while black may represent evil or death. A seed may represent hope, and a tree strength. Below are some things that could be used to represent other things. What might each symbolize?

a clock
the color red
a snake
a cave
a house

Bonus word: a symbol that recurs over and over with the same meaning is an archetype. An archetype is so common to the human experience that we hardly even think of it as a symbol and we almost universally associate the object with its symbolic meaning. 

One of the most famous poems ever written is "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. What is the main symbol in this poem? What does it stand for? Do you think it's an archetype?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Brook in the Woods, Theodore Clement Steele (1889)

An interesting piece of trivia about "The Road Not Taken" is that, while readers tend to interpret it as a serious reflection on an important decision, Frost is said to have written it to tease a friend of his, another poet named Stanley Burnshaw who was having a hard time making up his mind about something. Is there anything in the poem that might suggest it is not completely serious?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April 20

Three years ago on April 20 a bad thing happened. The last two years I was painfully aware of the approach of the date on the calendar. Yesterday I didn't even think about it until about halfway through the day. I write this today to encourage you, if you have recently had an April 20 in your life, to take heart. I know it doesn't seem like it now, but there will come a time when that date on the calendar won't be completely overshadowed by what happened in the past. I'm not saying you will forget. Your April 20 may be a hundred times worse than mine, and the last thing I want to do is make light of anyone's pain. It may be that you haven't had just one April 20 but a series of them in quick succession, and you are wondering when they're going to stop. In that case, I pray God's care and protection of you. I also pray that in time your April 20s, however many of them there are, hurt less and the day comes that you wake up to discover that April 20 came and went and you didn't even realize it because you were too busy enjoying a life that is better than you ever imagined it could be. Until then, be ye glad and trust in the One who took the worst day in history and turned it into the best day there ever was.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Catching My Breath

It's been a long couple of months. First I was sick for weeks with a cold and cough; then Phillip was. Holy Week and Easter were wonderful but draining for us as a church worker's family. Prior to that I had several intense weeks of accompanying four different schools at solo and choir contest. There were trips back and forth to Nebraska and Missouri to pick up and return college kids. My mom was sick for a while. There was an--um--incident with the car (minor) that necessitated its being in the body shop for several days. Evan received his First Communion! And, oh yeah, there were corporate and personal taxes to do. Plus, I filled in as organist/cantor last weekend (not my comfort zone!) and still managed to write a few more articles along the way. Phew! No wonder we are tired!

Over the last few days I finally feel like I've been able to catch my breath and check a few things off the task list while doing so. I took the dog to the vet, my mom to the podiatrist, and signed Evan up for swimming lessons. I treated the perimeter of the house for ants (a problem we didn't have in Illinois!). I did some online shopping for a certain young man who's about to graduate from college. And I caught up (a little) on the housecleaning. The piles are smaller and neater and the dust isn't a quarter inch thick anymore. Yay!

Another yay is the big news from my son. He has been offered, and has accepted, a full tuition + stipend assistantship to study piano performance as a Master's student at Texas Christian University. TCU is the home of PianoTexas as well as the host for the Van Cliburn international piano competition. Trevor will be studying with Tamas Ungar, professor at TCU and also director of PianoTexas. It is hard to believe my son will be graduating in less than three weeks. We have started looking at housing options in Fort Worth and may have found something. Since Trevor is still in Nebraska at this time, my husband and I may try to drive to Fort Worth this week to look at it. Trevor is a bit unusual in having lived in the dorm all four years of his undergraduate career. I think he is ready for his own apartment now. Wow!

Church news is that our pastor, who had a stroke last month, is progressing well but is still easily exhausted. He is coming to church and putting in a few hours in the office but is not teaching or presiding at worship yet. We are blessed with a pastor emeritus and outstanding elders who are doing a great job of filling in. Other big church news is that we have found a piano to purchase for our sanctuary! It is a 7-foot Baldwin artist grand and should be arriving within a week! (happy dance)

It is raining today, but rain or shine, Phillip and I are going to have our caipirinhas on the patio (luckily it is covered). The temperature is pleasant and we have not had our Sunday patio time in many weeks. Cheers!


Friday, April 17, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 11

The last lesson contained an example of a quatrain-- a stanza form consisting of four lines that rhyme in some sort of pattern. In an earlier lesson we studied couplets. These are just two of many options for giving structure and form to poetry. But there is also a type of poetry that does not adhere to any formal guidelines. Instead of being organized into regular stanzas and utilizing meter and rhyme, it is "free" from them and so is called free verse. Due to the lack of rhyme and meter, free verse may not even sound much like poetry when it is read aloud. What sets it apart from prose (non-poetical language) is that it still draws on many other poetic techniques such as intensity and conciseness of expression, figurative language, and a greater emphasis on creating an experience for the reader than on communicating information.

Some people think that free verse is a cop-out--that it is a way of making the writing of poetry easier, since the poet doesn't have to make his message fit within a certain framework. It could be argued, however, that the lack of rhyme and meter means that free verse puts other demands on the poet. Because the poem is not unified by rhyme and meter, it is perhaps even more important that it be unified by other poetic elements.

Below are two poems about the grass. One is in free verse, and one is not. Which is which? Which one do you like better?

In the Grass - Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

"Spring Grass" - Carl Sandburg

Spring grass, there is a dance to be danced for you. 
Come up, spring grass, if only for young feet. 
Come up, spring grass, young feet ask you. 

Smell of the young spring grass, 
You're a mascot riding on the wind horses. 
You came to my nose and spiffed me. This is your lucky year. 

Young spring grass just after the winter, 
Shoots of the big green whisper of the year, 
Come up, if only for young feet. 
Come up, young feet ask you.

"The Grass" - Emily Dickinson

The Grass so little has to do –
A Sphere of simple Green –
With only Butterflies to brood
And Bees to entertain – 

And stir all day to pretty Tunes
The Breezes fetch along –
And hold the Sunshine in its lap
And bow to everything – 

And thread the Dews, all night, like Pearls –
And make itself so fine
A Duchess were too common
For such a noticing – 

And even when it dies – to pass
In Odors so divine –
Like Lowly spices, lain to sleep –
Or Spikenards*, perishing – 

And then, in Sovereign Barns to dwell –
And dream the Days away,
The Grass so little has to do
I wish I were a Hay – 

* a spikenard is a type of herb

I'm sure you figured out that the first poem is in free verse. But even though it sounds rather speech-like, it is very different from prose. Can you identify some of the ways? How does Sandburg help you to experience the grass? What sense words (imagery) and metaphors can you find? Without rhyme and meter, what is used to give the poem form?
What type of stanza does Dickinson use in her poem? (quatrain) What is the grass compared to? Why do you think certain words are capitalized? Why would the speaker rather be hay than grass?

(Note: My initial plan was to post a simple poetry lesson in observance of National Poetry Month every week day during April. I have already failed in that plan and will probably continue to do so, but I plan to keep posting as frequently as possible in case there is anyone reading and also to keep me on track with the student in my house!)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 10

It's April fifteenth
You know what that means
There's no time for blogging
Or much anything.

I know. It's pretty weak as poetry goes. Blame it on Uncle Sam!

(Be back soon.)

Oh, and the above poem is an example of a quatrain, a 4-line poem (or stanza) with an alternating rhyme scheme. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


My friends wrote a book. I was honored to be given a sneak peek and am here to tell you that you need to buy it, like, now. I will have more to say about LadyLike in the future, but for now, please just trust me (would I steer you wrong?) and go to CPH and place your order. Then go to Facebook and like the LadyLike page (I dare you to say that five times fast). Then add the LadyLike blog to your news feed. Then follow LadyLike on Pinterest. And if you're in the St. Louis area, sign up for this. (Oh, to be in St. Louis this weekend.)

Thank you, Mrs. Curtis and Mrs. Adle for giving so much of yourselves to write this book for us! You're awesome!


Here is a video of Trevor's performance with the UNL Symphony last month. Much better in every way than mine! There are some nice close-ups on hands and face, too. There is very little that approaches the joy of seeing your child do something not only that he loves but that is a blessing and service to others. Thank you, Glen Korff School of Music for providing my son such a good home away from home the last four years. It has been a wonderful journey for him and those who love him!

National Poetry Month, Day 9

Today let's write some similes and metaphors. Remember, a simile is a stated comparison between two unlike things, and a metaphor is an implied comparison. The example illustrates the difference.

Getting a hug from a friend is like being wrapped in a soft, warm blanket. (simile)
Her hug covered my cold, sad heart in a blanket of warmth and love. (metaphor)

Both expressions compare a hug to a blanket, but the first one comes right out and states it, while the second one only suggests it.

Below are some ideas of things to describe . Pick one or two (or think of your own) and try to write both a simile and a metaphor for each. Start by thinking about the thing you want to describe. What does it look/smell/sound like? How does it make you feel? Then think of what you could compare it to to communicate those things. It may take a few tries to come up with the best combination of words to express what you want. Don't give up! Write down whatever you think of, and then keep adding to it, experimenting, and changing it until you have something that you like. (The most important thing about writing is to just do it. If you wait until you have it perfect in your head before writing it down you'll never get anywhere!)

a happy baby
a baby having a temper tantrum
your pet or another animal
your brother or sister
your house
your bedroom
your best friend
your mom when she's mad at you
your dad when he's proud of you
your favorite subject
your worst subject
playing outside
jumping on a trampoline
flying in an airplane
playing your favorite video game
playing an instrument
your favorite food
a food you hate

Now that you've written some similes and metaphors, look them over. Which one is your favorite? Why?

Monday, April 13, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 8

Let's be a metaphor detective today. Read the following short poems and see if you can figure out what the metaphor, or implied comparison, is. What is being compared in each poem?

"Good Night" - Victor Hugo

Good night! Good night!
Far flies the light;
But still God's love
Shall flame above,
Making all bright.
Good night! Good night!

"April Rain Song" - Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night.

I love the rain.

"Dandelion" - Hilda Conkling

O little soldier with the golden helmet,
What are you guarding on my lawn?
You with your green gun
And your yellow beard,
Why do you stand so stiff?
There is only the grass to fight!

"Skyscrapers" - Rachel Field

Do skyscrapers ever grow tired
Of holding themselves up high?
Do they ever shiver on frosty nights
With their tops against the sky?
Do they feel lonely sometimes
Because they have grown so tall?
Do they ever wish they could like right down
And never get up at all?

"The Horses of the Sea" - Christina Rossetti

The horses of the sea
Rear a foaming crest,
But the horses of the land
Serve us the best.

The horses of the land
Munch corn and clover,
While the foaming sea-horses
Toss and turn over.

If some of the words in the next poem are a little difficult to understand, look them up in a dictionary or ask for help understanding the ones you don't know.

"There is No Frigate Like a Book" - Emily Dickinson

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul! 

There is a special type of metaphor known as personification. When you use personification you give human characteristics to things that aren't human in order to describe them more vividly. Are any of the metaphors in the poems above examples of personification?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Weekend

I am one post behind in my month of poetry. The weekend got the better of me! Phillip has been out of town and I have been playing Cantor in his absence. So in addition to my regular employment there were extra rehearsals and practicing to fit in. Plus, true to form, I left the taxes for the last minute. I spent much of yesterday on them as well as on several articles I have in the works. This morning there were two services as well as another rehearsal; then it was off to the nursing home where I play a couple of afternoons a month. I am now finally home after a stop at the grocery store, and I think I am DONE for the day. Where is my bartender when I need him? (Sigh. He won't be home until tomorrow.)

Will try to get back on the poetry tomorrow morning!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 7

One of the most effective ways to describe something is to compare it to something else. Not only do poets do this, but we do it in real life. Sometimes we state the comparison clearly by saying something is like something else. In that case, the comparison is called a simile. (We might use the word "like" or "as" or we might use a different word, but it's still a simile.) Other times we imply or suggest the comparison rather than state it. In that case, it's called a metaphor. See the example below. Both sentences compare a person's face to the sun (or some other light source), but the first one states the comparison while the second one only implies it.

Her face was shining like the sun. (simile)
Her face shone with joy. (metaphor)

Here's a short poem that is based completely on one metaphor. What two things are being compared?

Monet, The Houses of Parliament Series
(Effect of Fog)

"The Fog"
Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Notice that the poem never says that the fog is like a cat or similar to a cat. It says the fog is a cat.

We'll talk more about metaphors and similes tomorrow. Today, try to listen for both and write a few down. You may be surprised to hear we use them all the time!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 6

One of the most famous uses of imagery in poetry is this poem by William Carlos Williams:

Farm Girl Feeding Chickens, Julien Dupre*

"The Red Wheelbarrow"

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

The poem paints a vivid but simple scene. People have been studying it for years, wondering what exactly depends on the red wheel barrow. What do you think the answer is? Why do you think the poem has no capital letters and no punctuation?

One popular poetic form that greatly depends on imagery is the haiku.** Maybe you have written one before. A haiku is a three-line poem about nature. It is Japanese in origin. It is simple but presents a powerful image. The first and third lines have five syllables each; the second line has seven syllables. Here is an example of a haiku in the original Japanese:

Furuike ya 
kawazu tobikomu 
mizu no oto

by Matsuo Basho***

There are various English translations of this poem. Some translators don't try to maintain the syllables but just focus on trying to translate as closely as possible. For example, here is a translation by Robert Hass:

The old pond--
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.

Other translators attempt to maintain both the content and the syllables. Here is a translation by Dion O'Donnol.

The silent old pond
a mirror of ancient calm,
a frog-leaps-in splash.

Which translation do you like better?

Today, try writing your own haiku. If you would like to write about something besides nature you can do so, but then it is called a senryu. Have fun!

*I couldn't find a public domain image of a red wheel barrow but if you look for one you will find zillions because so many artists have been inspired to create one!
**"The Red Wheelbarrow" is not a haiku but is similar in presenting a simple but vivid picture.
***Thank you to Famous Poets and Poems for the original version and translations of "The Old Pond." 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Easter Song"

For those who aren't on Facebook, here's a video of our church's Prelude on Sunday. It is a piece by Anne Herring, arranged by my husband for our choir and musicians. The instruments are piano, synthesized bells, three flutes, clarinet, three trumpets, hand drum and triangle. It was such a joy to see this effort come together. We have been at Immanuel less than two years and it is wonderful to see the esprit de corps that is developing in our music ministry. Enjoy! He has risen, just as He said!

This is the "Easter Song", by Anne Herring, and arraigned by Phillip Magness. A wonderful beginning to our Easter Celebration. Great job everyone.

Posted by Jolene Dierksen Stevens on Monday, April 6, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 5

What do you think of when you hear the word "image"? A picture, perhaps? Or maybe a reflection, as when you see your image in the mirror?

In poetry, imagery is not only language that helps to create a picture in your mind but language that appeals to any of the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Poets use imagery because they don't just want to tell you about something--they want to help you actually experience it as they have.

Here is a poem about Easter by Celia Thaxter. What words help you to see, smell, and hear Easter morning? To what object are the Easter lilies compared?

"On Easter Day"

Easter lilies! Can you hear
What they whisper, low and clear?
In dewy fragrance they unfold
Their splendor sweet, their snow and gold.
Every beauty-breathing bell
News of heaven has to tell.
Listen to their mystic voice,
Hear, oh mortal, and rejoice!
Hark, their soft and heavenly chime!
Christ is risen for all time! 

Now let's back up a little. Do you see any alliteration, assonance, or consonance? If so, what words or images seem to be emphasized by the repetition?

Also, did you notice this poem is written in couplets?

Here's another poem with plenty of imagery. What words help you to see, hear, and feel the month of April? Is there any alliteration, assonance or consonance in this poem?

"April" - Sara Teasdale

The roofs are shining from the rain. 
The sparrows twitter as they fly, 
And with a windy April grace 
The little clouds go by.

Yet the back-yards are bare and brown 
With only one unchanging tree-- 
I could not be so sure of Spring 
Save that it sings in me. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 4

One of the things that sets poetry apart from prose is the emphasis placed on the sound of the words. Meter and rhyme, which we already discussed, are two aspects of that. Another is alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of the beginning sounds in a group of words. Tongue twisters are a great example of alliteration:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
She sells seashells by the seashore.

What is the point of alliteration? Why do poets use it? In poetry, sound effects are used to emphasize or bring attention to the meaning the poet wants to convey. For example,

The slimy, hissing snake slithered sneakily through the grass.

Do you notice all the s's? They help us to imagine the snake even more. We can almost hear it hissing!

Related to alliteration are two other devices: assonance and consonance. They are both like alliteration in that they involve the repetition of sounds, but instead of coming at the beginnings of words the repeated sounds are contained within words. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds, and consonance is the repetition of--you got it!--consonant sounds. Can you find assonance and consonance in the example above? (Assonance: hissing, slithered, sneakily; Consonance: hissing, grass)

Boy, that's a lot of terms. Don't worry if you can't remember them all. Just remember that poetry is meant to be spoken, so poets choose their words not only for what they mean but for how they sound, and one of their most basic tools is repetition.

Try using alliteration, assonance and consonance by writing a tongue twister about yourself or someone you know. It can be pretend or real, serious or silly. Here's one I wrote. What vowel and consonant sounds, both at the beginnings of words and within words, do you see repeated?

Cheryl shared her sherbet with the thirty-three shrill chefs. 

First Communion

If it were up to me, I would have written the day differently. I would have left out the part about the allergy attack that made the new communicant miserable all day long. I would have written in a mother who remembers to have the First Communion candidate try on the dress shirt he hasn't worn in months to make sure it still fits. I would have scheduled the whole thing at a time when older siblings could be there. I would have sketched a pew full of extended family, grandparents and godparents.

As it was, the communicant was groggy with antihistamine to try to stem the sneezing. The dress shirt was replaced by a polo. Big sister and brother were away at college. The pew was empty save for parents, and since Dad is the organist, much of the time it was just Mom. 

Yet on reflection, I think it was better this way. Driving to church last night I was able to talk to Evan about how Holy Communion, like Baptism, is not dependent on how he feels or on anything he or anyone else does. It doesn't matter if he is sunburned from the Easter egg hunt, has been driven to distraction by constant sneezing and itchy, watery eyes, and is sleepy from Benadryl. It doesn't matter what he is wearing or that he has only his mom and dad to celebrate with. What matters is that last night Jesus came to him in the bread of life and the cup of salvation and that for the rest of his life he will be able to sup at the table of the Lord in confidence and hope, knowing that no matter how he "feels" his sins are forgiven and all his debts paid.

It was a beautiful Easter Vigil last night and a glorious Feast of the Resurrection today, and at both services my youngest was next to me, partaking of the Blessed Sacrament. It is a table fellowship that, now begun, has no end. What could possibly be wanting? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The End of an Era

Today at the church Easter egg hunt my youngest didn't look for eggs but instead hid them for others to find. Tonight he will receive his First Communion. My baby is not a baby anymore. But he still is and always will be a child of his Heavenly Father. God bless you, dear Evan, today and always. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." (1 Cor. 26:11)

Five years ago today

Thursday, April 2, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 3

One of the oldest and simplest poetic forms is the couplet. A couplet is made up of two metrical lines that rhyme and that express a complete idea. The first verse of "Jesus Loves Me" is made up of two couplets.

Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.

Here are a few couplets by famous authors. What do you think they mean?

Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.
(William Shakespeare, from Romeo & Juliet)

For all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"
(John Greenleaf Whittier, from "Maud Muller")

The world is so full of a number of things
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
(Robert Louis Stevenson)

Here are some silly couplets.

The Lord in His wisdom made the fly
And then forgot to tell us why.
(Ogden Nash)

I have the measles and the mumps,
a gash, a rash, and purple bumps.
(Shel Silverstein)

Do you have any Dr. Seuss books? Dr. Seuss wrote almost completely in couplets. Can you think of a couplet from your favorite Dr. Seuss book?

Today, let's try to write a couplet. Pick a person, a food you love or hate, an animal (maybe your pet), or something else, and see if you can write a couplet about it. Maybe you can write more than one!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 2

Sometimes people think of poetry as being alien and hard to understand. But some of the first poems you probably ever heard were simple nursery rhymes like this one:

Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
(Mother Goose)

One of the things children like about nursery rhymes is their songlike quality. They are easy to learn and remember because they have rhyme and meter. Rhyme and meter are not essential to a poem (yesterday’s poem had neither!), but they are two of the things we most closely associate with poetry.

Rhyme occurs when words end with similar sounds; meter occurs when the rhythm follows a pattern, resulting in a regular “beat.” What words rhyme in “Hey, Diddle, Diddle”? (diddle and fiddle; moon and spoon) Try saying “Hey, Diddle, Diddle” while stomping on the strong beats and clapping on the weak beats. Can you describe the pattern? (strong-weak-weak, strong-weak-weak, etc.)

Here’s another nursery rhyme. What is its beat pattern (meter)? Stomp and clap again to figure it out.

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.
(strong-weak-strong-weak, etc.)

Do the last words of the two lines in “Jack and Jill” rhyme? (Not exactly.) Do they sound a little alike? (Yes.) This is called slant rhyme. Slant rhyme is also sometimes called near, half, or approximate rhyme.

What are some other nursery rhymes you remember from when you were younger? I bet you can think of quite a few! Today, see if you can find an old Mother Goose book on your bookshelf and read some more just for fun!

Post images courtesy of Project Gutenberg