A Daring Question, One Remarkable Discussion

Inspired by Miss Penelope Lumley (see The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place), I decided to attempt to read a beautiful poem to my children today.

I didn’t know how it would go. But Miss Lumley often reads poetry to children raised by wolves, so I thought it could not be as bad as that.

Or perhaps it could be as bad as that, but certainly not worse than that. My kids haven’t been raised by wolves, at least. So I told my kids to gather ’round.

Note: They did complain. But I scolded them a little and they have learned to just go along with Mom when she gets in these moods.

So I started with the first poem in the book Christmas Poems called Ring Out, Wild Bells by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

I cleared my throat and read out the title of the poem, the poet’s name, and the dates he lived, which happen to be 1809-1892.

Then, before thinking, on an impulse, I asked a daring question that came to my mind, “Do we know about anything that happened when the poet was alive?”

My oldest (14) said, “The war of 1812 would have happened when he was really young, like three or four.”

My middle child (9) said, “Next comes the Missouri Compromise.”

Then all three children, 6, 9, and 14, proceeded to say the Classical Conversations timeline from the Missouri Compromise through World War 1.

Some of you will know what this includes. For those who do not, they said from memory:

“Immigrants flock to America, the Monroe Doctrine, Romantic Period of the Arts…”

At this, I looked down at the poem and asked the girls, “I wonder if Tennyson is considered a Romantic poet. He wrote this in the Romantic period of the arts.”

They all nodded. We all continued.

“Cherokee Trail of Tears, US Westward Expansion, Marx publishes the Communist Manifesto, the Compromise of 1850 and the Dread Scott Decision, US restores trade with Japan, British Queen Victoria’s rule of over India, Darwin publishes the Origin of Species, Lincoln’s war between the states.”

At this, my fourteen year old noted out loud that he would have lived through the Civil War!

We all said, “Wow!” and then kept going with the timeline:

“Reconstruction of the Southern States, Dominion of Canada, Otto Von Bismarck Unified Germany, Boar Wars in Africa, the Spanish American War, the Progressive Era, Australia becomes a commonwealth, Mexican Revolution, World War 1.”

Once we got to World War 1, they said, “He would not have been alive anymore. That was the early 1900s.” Note that they said this to one another and I only agreed with them.

So we stopped reciting the timeline.

Then my oldest said, “He wouldn’t have been alive in the Mexican Revolution either.”

“How would she know that?” I thought to myself.

Then I answered my own question when I remembered that she’s in Challenge 1 this year and she has to read and annotate original American documents, including Defense of the Alamo and Taney’s Dread Scott Decision, two documents about events that would’ve happened around the time, so her understanding of America’s timeline is being refined and filled in beautifully- That’s how.

Note: I have since checked her dates and she’s right. The Mexican Revolution happened in 1910-20, so Tennyson wasn’t alive then.

So then, after this brief discussion, which was mostly a recitation of the timeline we have all memorized, we read the poem, now with an idea of when the poet lived. I didn’t know if this would matter, since it was a poem about Christmas/ New Year, etc.

But I read it.

And I did not read it well.

And the children wiggled.

When it was over, we sat in silence for a few moments.

Then my middle child (9), said, “Isn’t there a part of the poem that mentions war?”

I found where it says, “Ring out the thousand wars of old” and pointed it out to her.

She said, “Yes. I thought so. He lived through many wars.”

Then my oldest (14) said, “He mentions ‘lust for gold.’ The westward expansion would have happened in his life time. That includes the gold rush.”

Now, since this conversation happened a few hours ago, I can look at the poem and see so much more, too.

Tennyson mentions the “feud of rich and poor.” The Communist Manifesto, published in his lifetime, must speak of that some, too.

I’m so glad I attempted to read the poem today!

And I am glad that I dared to ask that question!

It lead us into one remarkable discussion I don’t want to ever forget! (So I am posting it here.)

Credit goes to CC’s memory work, specifically, their timeline and my daughter’s Challenge 1 reading assignments.

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