Charles Causley (1917-2003) was a schoolmaster and poet from Cornwall. Probably his most famous poem is ‘Timothy Winters’ which appears in many collections. You can find out more about him, and listen to him reading some of his poems here. There is a Charles Causley Society devoted to continuing interest in his work.
This is a poem which worked well for me in the classroom and really got children talking about a serious subject – cruely to animals. Is it right to keep animals in captivity to perform to the public?
My mother saw a dancing bear
By the schoolyard, a day in June.
The keeper stood with chain and bar
And whistle-pipe, and played a tune.
There is a link to the full text here.
Here is a video of children reading the poem. There are some images on the video, but nothing unpleasant. The children reading the poem have added some extra verses themselves.
Some suggested activities
Read the poem and ask children to respond. Use the five questions approach.
Talk about the moods in the poem – why are the children laughing in the beginning? How was the bear feeling in the summer heart? How was the keeper speaking to the bear? Can you speak like the keeper was speaking? Why was the keeper handing round a begging-cup? Why did the laughter stop? Why did the bear (bruin) have aching eyes? How did the crowd feel at the end? Draw an emotions timeline for the poem.
Re-write the poem from the point of view of the bear. What is he or she thinking? What would the bear say to the crowd if it could speak?
Why do you think Charles Causley wrote this poem? What is his message? Does he approve of animals performing in public? Can you think of any animals you have seen performing in public? Who benefits from this? How did it make you feel? Should it be allowed?