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Teaching Poetry: 10 Benefits of Poetry & Poem Suggestions for Each Grade

Teach your children poetry; it opens the mind, lends grace to wisdom and makes the heroic virtues hereditary.

– Walter Scott
Scottish novelist, poet, playwright and historian

What is the Purpose of Poetry?

“The poet's aim is to blend in one the delightful and the useful.”

– Horace
leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus

Horace once said, "The poet's aim is to blend in one the delightful and the useful." A good poem will both gratify and teach. It brings pleasure and beauty as well as instruction to its reader. God designed a world full of beauty and truth available for our enjoyment. Sometimes all that stands in our way for these things to enrich our lives is simply for the knowledge of them to be added to our conscious awareness. It is the office of the poet to take insights about our world that are shrouded in fog and cut through that fog to reveal these wonders and make them accessible for our appreciation.

The two great offices of poetry...are to reveal and to move to right action through influence on the feelings.

– W. H. Wilcox
author of The Teaching of Poetry

Why is Poetry Important?

The crown of literature is poetry.

– W. Somerset Maugham
English playwright, novelist, and short story writer

Poetry can be considered a higher form of writing than prose. It's a literary form that makes especial use of poetic devices. It's an art form that requires skill to implement well.

Poetry crystalizes things that are true in a powerful and beautiful way that helps us see what we didn't see before. It helps us to appreciate and understand the world around us better.

Below is a list of ten benefits that reading and teaching poetry has to offer.

10 Benefits of Poetry: Reasons to Nurture Your Young with Poems

1. Poems Are Succinct

One merit of poetry few persons will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose.

– Voltaire
French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher

Poems are succinct, bite-sized treasure troves of wisdom, knowledge, or insight. There are exceptions (some narrative poems are quite lengthy), but the canon of short and succinct poetry is vast. And where lives are busy and attention spans are short, brevity is an asset. A short poem affords the ability to start and finish something of value within the small windows of time we often have to work within: the settling in moments at the start of class, the last few spare minutes before the end of class, a moment with your child waiting for the bus to arrive, or as a thought to share at the dinner table or at bedtime. It can be a thing spoken over your audience and then allowed to percolate, or it can be used as a springboard for discussion. A poem's succinctness only increases it's usefulness.

2. Poems Distill Wisdom and Truth

Poetry is something to make us wiser and better, by continually revealing these types of beauty and truth which God has set in all men's souls.

– James Russell Lowell
American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat

Good poems bring out into the open truths held latent in the heart. A light-bulb goes on as the reader instantly knows the truth of what is being said. Through the power of language, just the right words are used to convey just the right meaning with a beauty and an economy of words that draws the reader in. The poet has just helped raise the awareness level of the reader to the world around him, and the reader rejoices in the possession of a richer awareness. The poet's task is complete.

“Poets are all who love and feel great truths, and tell them.”

– Philip James Bailey
English spasmodic poet

Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life.

– William Hazlitt
English essayist, drama and literary critic, painter, social commentator, and philosopher

Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes.

– Joseph Roux
French Catholic parish priest, poet, and philologist

3. Poems Are Beautiful

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.

– Percy Bysshe Shelley
one of the major English Romantic poets

Similar to the way in which good poetry reveals hidden, yet familiar truths, good poetry can also reveal hidden yet familiar beauty. When a poet uses beautiful language to describe and frame elements of beauty within our world, the reader may suddenly be made aware of things perhaps seen before, but never fully appreciated. The poet John Keats remarked in his poem Endymion, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." When beauty and truth are revealed to us through a poem, we experience the joy of gained insight.

Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.

– Edgar Allan Poe
American writer, poet, editor, and literary critic

4. Poems Are Memorable

Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things.

– Matthew Arnold
English poet and cultural critic

Poetry is language optimized for impact. Good poetry is beautiful by design, and thus memorable by design. Theodore Roosevelt once quipped that "There is nothing more practical in the end than the preservation of beauty." This is because beauty has an enduring quality in the minds of man. We remember that which is beautiful. We are inspired by it and we are moved to preserve it. By encapsulating wisdom, knowledge, insight and all that is noble within beautiful language, they are given an enduring quality. It is the equivalent of wrapping these things up and gifting them to the ages so that they will continue to speak and be a blessing to future generations.

By endowing worthy thoughts with beautiful language, we bestow upon these thoughts a quality that makes them more memorable and apt to be thought upon. This is helpful since Proverbs 23:7 (KJV) says, "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he." If we are shaped by our thoughts and we become what we think, then it would be wise to choose things that are worthy and commendable to think about. Consider selecting poems you find particularly noteworthy which you would like to commit to memory. A good place to start would be to check out our Easy Poems to Memorize resource.

Verse embalms virtue.

– Noah Webster
American lexicographer, textbook pioneer, English-language spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and author. He has been called the "Father of American Scholarship and Education"

5. Poems Develop Language Skills

A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.

– W. H. Auden
British-American poet

Good writers learn their craft in part by reading good literature. And as W. Somerset Maugham said, "The crown of literature is poetry." The patterns of language we call "literary devices" (also known as "poetic devices") are the tools of the trade for writers. Think about your favorite poems. What was it that made you enjoy them? More than likely, the skillful use of literary devices to add a pleasing sound to the words and add effect to the message was a key reason why the poem was memorable. Poetry tends to make more frequent and more artistic use of literary devices than prose does. Reading good poetry helps readers absorb the manner in which literary devices can be used to improve language and communication skills.

Poetry: the best words in the best order.

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge
English poet and a founder of the Romantic Movement

6. Poems Are Springboards

Poems are excellent springboards for learning. They work well as starting points for teaching a variety of subjects: history, art, literary devices, life lessons, principles, and more. Think of poems as bite-sized doses of learning which peak curiosity and lead to further discussion and exploration. Poems work well as a jumping off point for a topic since they are usually memorable and often pack a lot of meaning into an economy of words.

7. Poems Expose the Reader to New Ideas

Poetry is what we do to break bread with the dead.

– Seamus Heaney
Irish poet, playwright and translator

Publishing a poem has been likened to the setting of a star in the night sky, where it will continue to speak to and shine upon future generations long after the author has past.

Poems are sometimes born in moments of flowing inspiration, and sometimes hammered out laboriously over long periods of time and many edits. But poems reliably contain the best ideas and thoughts an individual has to offer. Good poems say a lot in few words. They are the containers of ideas. Reading poetry exposes a person to the best ideas of other people living in a wide range of times and places. It expands one's horizons.

8. Poems Provoke Thought and Critical Thinking

Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during the moment.

– Carl Sandburg
American poet, historian, novelist, balladeer and folklorist

The reader of poetry is often left to wonder about, analyze, and interpret the meaning of what he has just read.

The ability to think critically for oneself is an indispensible part of growing into capable, responsible adulthood. A healthy mental life consists of the ability to engage in analytical, judgmental, and creative thought. These critical thinking faculties are attained and augmented by exercising them. They arrest in development or atrophy when not exercised. Critical thinking skills are essential to a healthy, thriving, and independent society. They are an antidote to groupthink and a dependency on group approval.

People are not born as critical thinkers, however. Critical thinking is a mindset that is developed through practice. It consists of a process by which we 1) clarify the topic at hand, 2) question the source of the information, 3) clearly identify the arguments being made, 4) analyze the the sources and arguments, 5) make an evaluation or a judgment on the arguments being made, and 6) synthesize and create our own arguments.

Reading poetry is an excellent avenue for honing critical thinking skills. As previously mentioned, poems set forth the highest ideas and wisdom of individuals in succinct, bite-sized units, making them ideal for critical thinking exercises. When reading poetry, keep in mind that while canned, pre-assigned questions and answers may have their place in limited doses (say to provide examples of how the critical thinking process should work), they can also short-circuit the student's chance of ever engaging directly with the ideas of the author and developing their own unique questions, thoughts and perspectives about the author's work. After a student is given the chance to reflect on the author's ideas and develop their own opinions about them, group discussion and exposure to the analysis of others can be highly productive. But given as a matter of course before the student has had their own chance at working through the critical thinking process, pre-assigned questions and commentary stunt growth. Something important happens when an individual actively participates with a text and asks their own unique questions of it. A rich inner life is developed in this way, and it is the process by which responsible, free-thinking individuals capable of self-determination and true freedom are made.

Thought takes man out of servitude, into freedom.

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

9. Poems Promote Humanity, Understanding, Empathy, and Perspective

People share their human emotions and experiences through poetry. The thoughtful reading of poetry helps us grow in awareness and in understanding of others and it stimulates the expansion of our emotional intelligence.

Every single soul is a poem.

– Michael Franti
American musician

10. Poems Inspire

Poetry can inspire and influence us in a number of ways. A well known causal chain is that thoughts and feelings become actions, actions become habits, habits become character, and character becomes destiny. We are exorted in Philippians 4:8 that "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Good poetry provides just that. As W. H. Wilcox once said, one of the great offices of poetry is "to move to right action through influence on the feelings." It is good news indeed that we get a choice in what kind of thoughts we feed ourselves. If you are interested in incorporating a steady diet of good poetry into your everyday routine, we recommend checking out the Poem of the Day.

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.

– Rainer Maria Rilke
Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist, generally considered the German language's greatest poet of the 20th century

Another way that poetry can inspire and influence is by showing us what is possible. Reading good poetry will inspire some to WRITE good poetry. And the effort of learning this art is exceedingly worthwhile. The ability to express oneself by translating thoughts and emotions into poetic language and to create is profoundly rewarding. As Rainer Maria Rilke said, "for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place." The student who is inspired to practice and learn the skills of the poet will be equipped with tools of expression that will serve him well for a lifetime, and may well serve to inspire the next generation. Beyond the practical value of improved writing skills, the practice of writing poetry changes how one sees and approaches the world. It trains the mind to look for beauty and truth in every situtation. And afterall, what could be more gratifying than that?

“Poetry has been to me its own exceeding great reward; it has given me the habit of wishing to discover the good and beautiful in all that meets and surrounds me.”

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge
English poet and a founder of the Romantic Movement

How to Select Poems to Teach

Whether you are a teacher making selections for the classroom or a parent making selections for your children, one of your primary objectives will most likely be to cultivate a love and appreciation of poetry in your audience. You’ll want to give your student a positive experience. Try mixing in poem selections that you feel confident will be of a topic of interest to the intended audience with some others that the audience will be less familiar with with the objective of expanding their mind. For many, short poems that get to the heart quickly, and rhyming poems that maintain interest, are ideal.

For parents, remember too that reading poetry affords an opportunity for a bonding experience and good memories to be made. Many years from now, your children may very well look back fondly on the days when you read poetry to them before tucking them into bed. Finding a poem on a topic that is meaningful to both you and your child will make reading poetry together special. Below is a list of resources offering poetry suggestions for each grade level.

Suggested Poems for Every Grade

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