06 February 2012

Poetry by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, for a WTM- guided Homeschooler

Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1809-1892

We read "The Beggar Maid," "O Swallow, Swallow," and "The Charge of The Light Brigade." They were nice and easily understood by my third grader. The 4 and 6 year old listened with attention. When we read poetry, I give a few clues as to what's coming, I read it, and then we verbally dissect it. We go through it stanza by stanza and figure out metaphors and vocabulary words. Then we read it again. It seems to work well.

At the Poetry Foundation, there is a thorough biography of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

The Beggar Maid seems to have a lot of backstory, cinematic and literary references that we didn't go into. Learn more about King Cophetua and the rest of the story here. It was easy to understand, especially when I mentioned it was like Buttercup marrying Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride.

O Swallow, Swallow was beautiful and fun to figure out. At first we thought it was about a Confederate soldier sending love to his Northern bride, but then we realized from the stanza;

"Why lingereth she to clothe her heart with love,
Delaying as the tender ash delays
To clothe herself, when all the woods are green?"

that really he hopes she will commit her heart to him. I couldn't find when it was written, so if you know more about which North and South he's referring to, I'd love to know. Here's an ash tree leaf.

We found a lot about "The Charge of The Light Brigade," a "rousing poem, with a hypnotic beat. The thumping, rhythmic tempo, echoing the galloping hooves of the chargers, is alluring and has made this poem a popular favourite over the years, in spite of its description of a military failure." source

There are a few reasons that there is such a wealth of information on this poem, and not the others we read, including "It just happened that the first modern war reporter witnessed the charge and the leading poet of the day wrote a poem about it." This refers to British war correspondent William Russell, and of course the poet is Lord Tennyson. Of course, no mother wants to think her soldier died in vain at the hands of a poor decision, but we must remember that any soldier who dies in battle deserves our respect and admiration.

"The Charge of the Light Brigade” recalls a disastrous historical military engagement that took place during the initial phase of the Crimean War fought between Turkey and Russia (1854-56). Under the command of Lord Raglan, British forces entered the war in September 1854 to prevent the Russians from obtaining control of the important sea routes through the Dardanelles. From the beginning, the war was plagued by a series of misunderstandings and tactical blunders, one of which serves as the subject of this poem: on October 25, 1854, as the Russians were seizing guns from British soldiers, Lord Raglan sent desperate orders to his Light Cavalry Brigade to fend off the Russians. Finally, one of his orders was acted upon, and the brigade began charging—but in the wrong direction! Over 650 men rushed forward, and well over 100 died within the next few minutes. As a result of the battle, Britain lost possession of the majority of its forward defenses and the only metaled road in the area.

In the 21st century, the British involvement in the Crimean War is dismissed as an instance of military incompetence; we remember it only for the heroism displayed in it by Florence Nightingale, the famous nurse. However, for Tennyson and most of his contemporaries, the war seemed necessary and just. He wrote this poem as a celebration of the heroic soldiers in the Light Brigade who fell in service to their commander and their cause. The poem glorifies war and courage, even in cases of complete inefficiency and waste. Source

-118 men killed
-127 wounded
-60 taken prisoner

Here is a good YouTube video... A little wordy for third graders, maybe, but visually, a good way to put the scenery, uniforms, destruction and vulnerability of the horses vs cannons in their mind. It has multiple readers , with their voices overlapping, saying quotes from survivor's letters. Another option would be to play the clip with no sound and read the poem over top of the images.

Here's a link to a more fun clip from the movie "the Blind Side" where the adoptive father explains the poem using football as an analogy, which the son understands well. link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaKzps4O1aU

I'm so pleasedyou are reading Higher Education! Click on the post title to leave a comment. Teresa (Tracy) Dear


  1. Oh, how happy I am that I stumbled across your blog! I'm very interested in Classical and Charlotte Mason methods, or perhaps the combination of the two. Such fun perusing your blog! Thank you for giving us little slices of your life.

  2. Are you going to update your Classical Curriculum blog with the current books you're using? I loved reading over it and would like to know what you use (or plan on using) for after third grade! I know you have sooo much free time (joking). Any thoughts?

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  4. oh wow.. this was really amazing series of facts stringed together.. i am so much amazed to know about how Alfred promoted homeschooling.. i never looked at his poems with that view.