Reading Classical Poetry to Children

But the fact remains that a greater effect in education is obtained by reading to a child a well-known poem than a little-known poem.Part of the reason for this is the simple fact of the knowledge being shared,

The vision held by MatthewArnold in the nineteenth century—that universal knowledge of poetry would take the place of the universal knowledge of the Bible he could already feel fading in England—has certainly not come about.

But there is some knowledge of poetry shared in America, and if the metaphorical resources of the language are not to be reduced entirely to references to 1960s television programs, that shared knowledge needs to be preserved. But there is another and better reason to read William Blake’s“The Tyger”to a child,and Robert Browning’s“The Pied Piper of Hamelin,”Eugene Field’s“Wynken,Blynken, and Nod,”R o b e rt Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse,and all of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear and Edgar Allan Poe. And that reason has to do with handing on a language as rich as the language we received.

One reason we read poetry to children is to maintain the deposit of word and phrase—prior generations’investment in the language.There is a purpose in putting “young Lochinvar is come out of the West”and “The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees ”in children’s anthologies—and “’Twas the night before Christmas”and “what is so rare as a day in June ? ”and “I hear America singing”and “Under a spreading chestnut tree”and all the rest of the Victorian parlor classics.The person who is not given these references as a child is finally deprived as an adult, for the language will never thicken and clot around old memories.

This qutoe is from What Children’s Poetry is For by J. Bottum.