Resources on poetry by the poets themselves

Range of forms

(Be sure to look through the Literacy Hour section for all the year groups where you will also find examples of different forms.)

Haiku

This Japanese lyric form of 17 syllables in 3 lines of 5, 7, 5, syllables emerged in the 16th century and is still written today. Ideally, a haiku should at least imply a season and use natural images.
Here are some haikus by the famous Japanese poet Basho (1644-94) in new versions by Carol Ann Duffy:

1.

In rainy weather
even the cheeky monkey
needs an umbrella.

2.

From the ancient pond
with a spring and leap and splash
burps a new green frog.

3.

When friends say goodbye
forever, it’s like wild geese
erased by the clouds.

4.

I gaze at the moon.
without the gathering clouds
I would break my neck.

5.

Tall summer grasses
stand at ease in these still fields
where the soldiers fell.

6.

A pale butterfly
gently perfumes her frail wings
in an orchid bath.

7.

This lonely poet
walks down a long empty road
into autumn dusk.

ACTIVITY

Give each child a season or time of year- spring, summer, hallowe’en, bonfire night, autumn, winter, christmas eve etc- and ask them to find an an image to make a haiku from. Don’ forget to count the syllables!

Tanka

A tanka is a variation on the haiku form- this time using 5 lines and a syllable pattern of 5,7,5,7,7. Traditionally, when a Japanese poet wrote a haiku and gave it to a member of the court, the recipient would add two extra lines and return it.

ACTIVITY

Split the class into pairs. One child must write the haiku and their partner must add the extra two lines to turn it into a tanka. Have all the class poetry books out while you are doing this- so that children can read poems as well as write them.

3. CINQUAIN

The cinquain has a total of 22 syllables, in 5 lines of 2, 4, 6, 8, 2, syllables. The last line can often be used to give a twist to the poem. Although it probably originated in medieval times, the precise cinquain was devised by the American poet Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) for her volume of Verse. Here are four of her cinquains:

NOVEMBER NIGHT

Listen...
With faint dry sound
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

Adelaide Crapsey

MOON SHADOWS

Still as
On windless nights
The moon-cast shadows are,
so still will be my heart when I
am dead.

Adelaide Crapsey

THE WARNING

Just now
Out of the strange
Still dust...as strange, as still...
A white moth flew...Why am I grown
So cold?

Adelaide Crapsey

TRIAD

These be
Three silent things:
The falling snow...the hour
Before the dawn...the mouth of one
Just dead.

Adelaide Crapsey

Kennings

Kennings are a kind of riddle. They were used in Anglo Saxon and Norse poetry to write about something without naming it- for example, web-spinner =spider; milk-sucker=baby, and so on. They work very well also as list poems!

The Red Kite

Flamboyance
air-balance
flame-feather
all-weather
skateboarder
joy-hoarder
wind-strider
air-rider
sky-dancer
prey-chancer
carrion-picker
blood-drinker
oak-wood rooster
scrap-nester
swallow-tail
in the gale.

Gillian Clarke

Newt

Dinosaur-dreamer
sleepy-gleamer
hibernator
tail-chaser
ten-fingers
in the coal
ten-toes
in a hole
winter-sleeper
eye-peeper
spring-waker
morning-breaker

Gillian Clarke

Seal

Silk-skin, flipper-fin
spaniel-eyed in the tide
clumsy-blubber on land
heavy-heaver up the sand.
In the wave, water’s daughter,
sea-singer, luck-bringer.

Gillian Clarke

Epitaphs

Epitaphs can be found on tombstones. Because of this they are usually very short. They try to say something about the life and personality of the person who has died. Sometimes they can be darkly humorous. Here are some epitaphs. Some of them are good examples of couplets too! (Couplets are 2- consecutively rhymed lines in a poem.)

EPITAPH ON A PESSIMIST

I’m Smith of Stoke, aged sixty-odd,
I’ve lived without a dame
From youth-time on; and would to God
My Dad had done the same.

THOMAS HARDY

EPITAPH FOR A GARDENER

All his life a soldier in the field
ar war with the weeds, the grass
rooting back faster than he tore it up.
At peace now it blows over him: green, green.

KEN SMITH

EPITAPH ON HIMSELF

Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here;
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

ON PRINCE FREDERICK

Here lies Fred,
Who was alive and is dead:
Had it been his father,
I had much rather;
Had it been his brother
Still better than another;
Had it been his sister,
No one would have missed her;
Had it been the whole generation,
So much better for the nation:
But since ‘tis only Fred,
Who was alive and is dead,
There’s no more to be said.

ANON

Songs

These are poems whose structure of rhyme and, particularly, rhythm mean they can be sung. They often have several verses with a chorus. Here are some song-type poems from some significant children’s poets:

JERUSALEM

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountain green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pasture seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

WILLIAM BLAKE

A MORNING SONG

(for the first day of Spring)

Morning has broken
Like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken
Like the first bird.
Praise for the singing!
Praise for the morning!
Praise for them, springing
From the first word.

Sweet the rain’s new fall
Sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dewfall
In the first hour.
Praise for the sweetness
Of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness
From the first shower.

Mine is the sunlight!
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light
Eden saw play.
Praise with elation,
Praise every morning
Spring’s re-creation
Of the First Day!

ELEANOR FARJEON

SKYE BOAT SONG

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Mull was astern, Rum on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow;
Glory of youth glowed in his soul:
Where is that glory now?

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Give me again all that was there,
Give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
Give me the lad that’s gone!

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

ACTIVITY

As a class, collect 10 or 12 singable poems together. Team up with the music teacher at your school and make a cassette of the children singing the poems they have chosen.

Prayers

Prayers are poems or verse which speak to God or which express a strong spiritual belief. They can take a variety of forms. Here are some prayer-poems by both anonymous and significant children’s poets:

HURT NO LIVING THING

Hurt no living thing,
Ladybird nor butterfly,
Nor mouth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper, so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat,
Nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.

CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

CELTIC BENEDICTION

Deep peace of the Running Wave to you.
Deep peace of the Flowing Air to you.
Deep peace of the Quiet Earth to you.
Deep peace of the Shining Stars to you.
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

ANON

EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

THE THANKSGIVINGS

We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here to praise Him.
We thank him that He has created men and women, and ordered that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.
We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products to live on.
We thank him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs for our lands.
We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.
We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming from them for us all.
We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows for our shelter.
We thank Him for the beings that come from the west, the thunder and lightning that water the earth.
We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun that works for our good.
We thank Him for all the fruits that grow on the trees and vines.
We thank Him for his goodness in makng the forest, and thank all its trees.
Who is our friend? The Thunder is our friend.
Who is our friend? The Thunder is our friend.
Who is our friend? The Bull is our friend.

IROQUOIS TRIBE

DISCUSSION

Read the prayer poems together and talk about them. As homework, ask the children to bring in a prayer from their own household to share with the class.

ACTIVITY

Using The Thanksgivings as a model, ask each child to write a list of things they would like to give thanks for. If you prefer, the class can all write one long group poem- this could be a lovely way of establishing their identity as a class.