Young people and their parents

Maybe young people, particularly teenagers, can grow up with a sense of being put-upon by their parents; too many restrictions, too much pressure. This sense of injustice can manifest itself in anger, alienation or simply a lack of communication.

Sometimes it is hard to appreciate what parents do for their children – however ungrateful those offspring might be. So this poem, a classic by the American poet Robert Hayden (1913-1980), could prompt a really interesting discussion.

The writer reflects on a minor happening. It’s a cold, wintry, Sunday morning. The father, having worked all week, still gets up early to make a fire. He does it without thanks and the child responds with ill-chosen harsh words, speaking “indifferently”. The father also polishes the shoes for the child (maybe a teenager, maybe even older?). Here is an extract:

Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden.

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
The final two lines are my favourite. Somehow the repetition is heart-breaking:
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Read the full poem here. Read about the life of Robert Hayden here.
This is a performance, one of many, of this poem:

Lesson ideas
1. You could begin with a picture of a father building a fire in the kitchen. It could be contemporary or from a different era. What is this man doing? Where is the rest of the family? Why is he doing this? Why doesn’t anyone else help?

2. Introduce the idea of his children being upstairs, but having woken. How are they feeling? Who is showing love here – the children towards their father, or the father towards his children?

3. How many things do our parents do for us which we don’t appreciate? Should we be expected to thank them, or is this part of their role as parents?

4. Could we change by saying thank-you sometimes for what our parents or elders do for us?

There are some excellent discussion questions here.

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Robin Williams and poetry

Who could resist poetry after watching Dead Poet’s Society? This wonderful, moving film shows what happens when a group of students find themselves inspired by their English teacher, played by Robin Williams.

He urges them to cast off an analytical approach to poetry, which attempts to measure the effectiveness of a poem using a graph, and think about the beauty of the words; how they make you feel.

If you haven’t seen the film, watch this memorable clip.

In this scene, he inspires a reluctant student to think creatively and find the poetic voice within him.

If you are teaching at secondary level, what better way to encourage students – especially boys – to consider poetry in a positive light?

And what can one say about Robin Williams? A truly great actor.

Can you think of any other movies which would encourage students to write, read or perform poetry? I’d be interested to hear from you.