The Rainforest by Judith Wright

4746f12a5f3073d69c9bb83481aed20a.jpeg (443×267)The Rainforest is a three-verse poem by Australian poem Judith Wright. It is ideal for use in rainforest projects and of particular relevance to years five, six and beyond. It can be used as a stimulus for art or for discussion in a PSHE-context of conservation and the threat to our planet.

Whilst, on the surface, there are descriptions of life in the rainforest, there is plenty of implied meaning beneath and enough ambiguous phrases to get young people talking. It is also an excellent example of the concise use of language; just how much can be said in so few words.

This is how the poem begins:

Rainforest

The forest drips and glows with green.
The tree-frog croaks his far-off song.
His voice is stillness, moss and rain
drunk from the forest ages long.

Read the whole poem here.

Wright.jpg (391×316)According to Poem Hunter website, Judith Wright was a prolific Australian poet, critic, and short-story writer, who published more than 50 books. She was an uncompromising environmentalist and social activist campaigning for Aboriginal land rights. She believed that the poet should be concerned with national and social problems. Even at the age of 85, just before her death, she attended in Canberra at a march for reconciliation with Aboriginal people.

Here is a link to Judith Wright’s poems on Poem Hunter.

Here is an unusual video treatment of the poem using synthesised music:

Possible activities using this poem

Use the poem as a stimulus for artwork. Create the environment which Judith Wright is so passionate about.

Discuss the future of the rainforest. Which animals live there? Why is it under threat? How do we rely on the rainforest? Write letters to powerful people expressing your concern for the rainforest.

Tease out the meaning of key words and phrases from the poem:

“unless we move into his dream”. What is his dream? How can we move into it?

“where all is one and one is all”. What does this mean in a global sense? How would we think about the world if we adopted this approach?

“our quick dividing eyes”. What does this mean? Why are we quick? What do we divide?

“the forest burns”. Investigate why this is happening. What is Judith Wright saying about the rainforest here?

41sAbATNtDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This poem appears in the excellent collection, Best Poems on the Underground. You may have seen it on your travels around London.

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.

Let no one steal your dreams by Paul Cookson

I used to encourage my class to follow their dreams. I used to ask them to think of what they wanted to become – a great inventor, a doctor, a professor, a teacher, a designer, an actor, a musician… and inevitably a footballer. I told them about people I knew who had followed their dreams, no matter what setbacks they might have faced.

Once we had shared our different dreams, I asked the children to think about how they might get there. What do they have to do now to succeed in achieving that dream? I was trying to get across the idea that everything they do now, at school and at home, can play a part in the journey towards that dream. Yes, I was trying to get them to think about working hard and behaving well, but I also wanted them to consider the bigger picture and how their lives could contribute to making the world a better place.

If someone wanted to be a footballer or a wrestler, then fair enough – but I did try to suggest other occupations which might benefit the world, and also to try to break down gender expectations and move away from stereotypes.

This poem, by Paul Cookson, picks up beautifully on this idea. It is perfect for a PSHE lesson looking at jobs and growing up. It is also perfect for one of those introductory lessons when pupils meet their new teacher and are looking ahead to a new school year. This is how the poem begins:

Let no one steal your dreams
Let no one tear apart
The burning of ambition
That fires the drive inside your heart.

Let no one steal your dreams
Let no one tell you that you can’t
Let no one hold you back
Let no one tell you that you won’t.

Here is a link to the full text which can be downloaded.

Here is an unusual video performance of this poem:

Here is a video of poet Paul Cookson performing another of his poems in a workshop with children:

Suggested activities
1. Ask children to think about being grown up. What will they be doing? How can they make the world a better place?
2. Share these ideas. Then consider: what do I have to do now to make that dream come true?
3. Share with them some well-known people who have fulfilled their dreams. Ensure there are positive images of females within the selection and a good mix of cultures. Try to avoid the obvious (David Beckham etc).
4. Work towards a class performance of the poem.
5. Ask each child to write their dream down and list three things they need to do this year to make it come true. Seal these in an envelope and open them on the last day of term.

Whatif by Shel Silverstein

Everyone has secret fears, often hidden inside – and children are no exception. This poem, Whatif by Shel Silverstein, articulates the anxieties of a young person. The fears range from not doing well in a school test, to a late bus, to parents breaking up, and even to death itself.

Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) was an American poet, singer-songwriter and cartoonist. Here is how the poem opens:

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?

Read the full text of the poem here.

This is a really fun version of the poem (note: it begins with flashing images).

Suggested activities
This poem could be really useful in a PSHE context, especially if there are particular children in your class suffering from anxieties.

Read the poem out to the children and work towards a class performance. Share lines out to individuals, pairs and groups and get the children really familiar with the feel of the poem and its meaning.

Then, the children could work in groups, with large pieces of card, listing their own anxieties from the trivial (losing their ruler) to the serious things they are worried about. Perhaps there could be a scale across the top of the sheet from 1 to 10 and they could write their worries in the appropriate places.

Children could then start taking these fears and working them into a poem, similar to Silverstein’s. You will note that Silverstein rhymes pairs of lines, but I would not advise this approach with children, until some are very keen to give it a go.

You can read more poems by Shel Silverstein at Poetry Soup.