The Garden by Franta Bass

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Franta Bass

Franta Bass was a Jewish boy born in Czechoslovakia in 1930. When he was 11 years old, his family was deported by the Nazis to Terezin Ghetto/Camp, just north of Prague (also known as Theresienstadt). He stayed there, living under terrible conditions, for three years. On October 28th, 1944, he was murdered in Auschwitz, a Nazi-controlled concentration camp in Poland. He was 14 years old.

Of the vast majority of Czech Jews who were taken to Terezin (or Theresienstadt), 97,297 died among whom were 15,000 children. Only 132 of those children were known to have survived. (Source: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

This is a poem written by Franta, The Garden:

The Garden

A little garden,
Fragrant and full of roses,
The path is narrow
And a little boy walks along it.

A little boy, a sweet boy,
Like that growing blossom.
When the blossom comes to bloom,
The little boy will be no more. 

 

Possible activities using The Garden:

Give children the first four lines of the poem, but with no background about the poet or the context. Just tell them it is written by a child, about their age.

A little garden,
Fragrant and full of roses,
The path is narrow
And a little boy walks along it.

Who might the poet be? Where is he? How is he feeling about his surroundings? Why is the path described as ‘narrow’? Is the boy in the garden now – or is he remembering a time when he was in the garden?

Then move on to the second verse:

A little boy, a sweet boy,
Like that growing blossom.
When the blossom comes to bloom,
The little boy will be no more. 

How has the mood of the poem changed? Why is he compared with blossom? Why will the little boy “be no more”?

Then introduce the children to Franta Bass and tell them about when and where he lived. Talk about his death at the age of 14. Lead the children to a discussion of memory – why are we talking about this poem now? Why is it important to remember the Holocaust? Are the children today who are facing terror and hardship?

Useful resources

Butterfly-cover-large.jpg (216×333)This book features children’s drawings and poems from the Terezin Ghetto/Camp.

Read about the background of the Terezin Ghetto/ Concentration Camp.

Various photographs taken at the Terezin Camp today (suitable for young audience, discretion advised)

Here is another poem written by Franta Bass:

I am a Jew

I am a Jew and will be a Jew forever. 
Even if I should die from hunger, 
never will I submit.
I will always fight for my people, 
on my honor. 
I will never be ashamed of them, 
I give my word.
I am proud of my people, 
how dignified they are. 
Even though I am suppressed, 
I will always come back to life. 

 

 

 

 

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My ten favourite poems

cropped-books.jpgIn no particular order, here are my current top ten favourite poems. The list changes all the time. I have tried to include only one from each poet, but Robert Hayden’s two in the list are just so wonderful they both have to be included. I have gone for contrasting themes so that they match our every-changing moods.

  1. Those winter Sundays by Robert Hayden
  2. The Voice by Thomas Hardy
  3. Frederick Douglass by Robert Hayden
  4. Walking Away by Cecil Day Lewis
  5. Preludes by T.S.Eliot
  6. A poem is a city by Charles Bukowski
  7. Poetry Jump-Up by John Agard
  8. Shema by Primo Levi
  9. April Rain Song by Langston Hughes
  10. Adlestrop by Edward Thomas

And a few more…

Joy at the sound by Roger McGough
There will come soft rains by Sara Teasdale
In Time of Breaking of Nations by Thomas Hardy
So you want to be a writer by Charles Bukowski
Everyone Sang by Siegfried Sassoon
About his person by Simon Armitage
I wish I were by Rabindrath Tagore

Please let me know your favourite poems.

 

The Shores of Normandy

jim radford 1
Jim Radord, D-day veteran and composer.

The Shores of Normandy is an incredibly moving song written by Jim Radford in memory of the crew mates he lost on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. It can stand alone as a powerful poem, but is even more impressive as a song.

This is how the poem begins:

In the cold grey light of the sixth of June, in the year of forty-four,
The Empire Larch sailed out from Poole to join with thousands more.
The largest fleet the world had seen, we sailed in close array,
And we set our course for Normandy at the dawning of the day.

There was not one man in all our crew but knew what lay in store,
For we had waited for that day through five long years of war.
We knew that many would not return, yet all our hearts were true,
For we were bound for Normandy, where we had a job to do.

The poem goes on to tell of the experiences of a galley-boy on board the Empire Larch, a deep sea tug, as it crossed the channel and landed at Normandy. As Radford writes:

I little thought when I left home of the dreadful sights I’d see,
But I came to manhood on the day that I first saw Normandy.

This is a poem in the style of story-telling ballads. It is straight-forward, packed with action and emotion and will appeal to people of all ages.

In the video below, Jim Radford performs his composition at the Service of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in November 2014.

Suggested activities

1. Begin with the words. Give the poem to the children. Do not give them the context, but ask them to highlight key words or phrases that give clues as to what this poem is all about.

2. Discuss what happened at Normandy. Why did the people die? What were they doing there? What did they achieve? What must it have been like to have been aboard the Empire Larch that day in June, 1944?

3. Prepare a class reading of the poem. Individual groups could work on particular verses.

4. Add artwork to your performance. Could children draw the boat and the servicemen on board?

5. What do those children who might play video games about war think about it in reality? Has it changed the way they feel about warfare and being a soldier?

6. Show the children the recording of Jim Radford performing the song. Do they think it brings the song to life? What questions would they like to put to Jim Radford? He can be contacted here.

Poems about places

I would like to suggest two contrasting poems about places – both are wonderful poems and conjure up the sense of place vividly.

Adlestrop by Edward Thomas

The first is called Adlestrop by Edward Thomas (1878-1917). Thomas is seen as a nature poet and his short life was ended when he died in the First World War. Adlestrop is a place in Gloucestershire where his train stopped one day. It was one of those occasions when the train stops at a station unexpectedly, and no one gets off or gets on. He captures the moment beautifully in four simple stanzas. Here is how it begins:

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

You can read the full text of the poem here. There is a reading of the poem by legendary film actor Richard Burton here:

This is a longer film with pictures of the station, which match some of the phrases in the poem.

Midsummer, Tobago by Derek Walcott

Midsummer, Tobago is by Caribbean poet Derek Walcott (born 1930), a winner of the Nobel prize for literature. It evokes a moment in midsummer. You can feel the heat, see the river on this stifling August day. Walcott takes this opportunity to think about the past and the memories he treasures. This is how the poem begins.

Broad sun-stoned beaches.

White heat.
A green river.

A bridge,
scorched yellow palms

from the summer-sleeping house
drowsing through August.

The full text of this short poem is here. There is a rather unusual musical treatment of this poem here:

Suggested activities

1. Read one of the poems to the class. Get them to close their eyes. Divide the five senses out to groups. When they have heard the poem, what do they see, hear, touch, taste and smell? Now do the same with the second poem – how is this different?

2. Talk about the feelings of the two poets. They have not just described a place they have visited. They have managed to suggest what it means to them. How do the poets feel about these places? Don’t accept ‘happy’ or ‘sad’. Get a thesaurus out and ask the children to brainstorm the feelings of the poets.

3. Once the children are familiar with both poems, ask them to think of a place they have visited. They could first produce a shower of words associated with that place. Then ask them to list feelings they have about that place. If it is a fond memory, why?

4. Ask children then to write in the style of one of the poems (they may find the Walcott free verse easier). Make sure every word counts. Once they have put some ideas down, get them to swap their poems and see if any words can be removed.

5. Ask them to perform their poems to partners and to groups. Work on a second draft. Then perform them to the class.

 

Tiananmen by James Fenton

tiananmenIn June 1989, hundreds of innocent civilians were massacred in Beijing in an uprising by students campaigning for democracy. This memorable poem, Tiananmen by James Fenton (born 1949) is a powerful, but accessible, reflection on the incident. I used this poem with a Year 5 class and, even though they were unaware of the incident, they brought many intelligent thoughts to the discussion, especially when confronted by the most famous image of this event in history.

Tiananmen
Is broad and clean
And you can’t tell
Where the dead have been
And you can’t tell
What happened then
And you can’t speak
Of Tiananmen.

Here is the full text of the poem. Below is a video showing the most striking image of the events in the square – a young man stands in front of a tank and will not let it pass. You could show this video, with or without the soundtrack which contains a poem by Rod Kerr.

Possible activities with this poem

I think I began with the text of this poem and just put it out there to the class. I asked them to read it in pairs, and note down a couple of questions on whiteboards which they would like to ask about the poem. I didn’t give them any clues about it and I didn’t even tell them what Tiananmen was or why it was important.

These are some of the possible questions:

Why are there dead people?
Where is Tiananmen? What happened there?
Why are you not allowed to think? Why are you not allowed to write things down?
Who are the ‘cruel men’? Why are they ‘ready to kill’?

It would be good at this stage, to move towards some kind of class or group performance of the poem. By now, children should have gathered what the appropriate mood is for the poem. The vocabulary is very simple and straightforward, though the meaning is deep.

At this stage, you may wish to reveal the picture (above, or similar) of the student facing up the tank. Alternatively, you could show the whole incident in the Youtube clip. I found that children were fascinated by this and suddenly the meaning of the poem fell into place.

Read the poem again. And look again at the questions posed at the beginning. Then, broaden out the discussion with questions such as:

What is democracy?
Why do people feel it is important to cast a vote for how their country is run?
Will you vote when you grow up?
Do you think children should have a vote?
For which things do we vote in school (eg school councils, class captains)? Why do we do this?
How does it make you feel when you vote?
Can you think of anywhere in the world where people cannot vote?
How does this make them feel?

Wonderful poems about the rain

When it is raining outside, don’t close the blinds in your classroom. I know it can be a terrible distraction if children are looking out of the window at the weather, but why not turn it into a creative moment?

I want to suggest a couple of poems you could use. These could lead to discussion, vocabulary work, and ultimately to children trying to find their own poetic voices. If you have an outdoor classroom, this would be a great time to use it. Get the coats on, and get outside. Find somewhere dry-ish and listen to these poems.

First up is April Rain Song by Langston Hughes (1902-1967). Hughes was an American poet and activist. Among his work is a fascinating book of poetry about jazz music. The poem can be found in One Hundred Years of Poetry for Children (Oxford, 2007), edited by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark. This is a short, but beautiful, poem about the rain. You might want to ask children to go outside and think of as many words to describe the rain first. Make a class list. How many are positive about the rain, and how many negative? Then read them this poem, very slowly. It begins:

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby

Questions to ask about this poem:
How does the poet feel about the rain?
Which words does he use to describe it?
Who is the poet speaking to when he uses the word ‘you’?
From which country does the poet come? How do we know this from the poem?
How do you feel about the rain? How can it be a beautiful thing?
Can you think of an occasion when you, too, have loved the rain?

There is a glorious video of the poem here:

And another one here from the New York Botanical Gardens:

Another poem about the rain

The second poem to consider (on the same page of the book mentioned above) is There will come soft rains by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933). She was an American poet, from Missouri, and had a rather tragic life. Here is the beginning of it:

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools, singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

The poem was published in 1920, not long after the end of the First World War. Here is the full text. Here is a video version of the poem:

This poem could fit into your project about the First World War, but it could also be considered alongside other weather poems, and leading into a deeper meaning.

Possible activities in the classroom

Just give this poem to children, perhaps in Years 5 or 6, and challenge them to explain what it is about. Don’t give them any introduction about it or any images to tease them. Then ask:

When do you think this poem was written?
Was it written by a man or a woman? Why?
Which war are they writing about?
How does nature respond to this war?
What point is the poet trying to make about war?

There are plenty more poems about the rain on the Poem Hunter website. I would be interested to know if you have used any, and which were effective.

 

Citizen of the World by Dave Calder

There has never been a more important time to address issues of refugees, alienation and racism. With feelings running high in many countries of the world – especially the UK – thirefugeess is an important subject to raise in classrooms. Many of our primary schools have welcomed children from other countries, some refugees, some seeking asylum. This poem, Citizen of the World by Dave Calder, will get the class thinking about how children must feel when they arrive in a new place, perhaps not of their own choosing. It begins:

when you are very small
maybe not quite born
your parents move
for some reason you may never understand they move
from their own town
from their own land
and you grow up in a place
that is never quite your home

The full text of the poem can be found here, along with other poems by Dave Calder. It is hard to find much information about Dave Calder, other than he edited The Usborne Book of Funny Poems.

Possible activities

Start the lesson by asking children what the word ‘home’ means to them. Make a list of class responses and some typical vocabulary.

Then show them a picture, such as the one above. Here are some possible discussion questions:
Who are these people?
Where are they going?
How are they feeling? Look at their faces.
Why do people have to leave one country and go to another?
What does the word ‘home’ mean to them? How does this compare to your idea of ‘home’ discussed earlier?

Perhaps someone in your class could share a story from personal experience of moving from one place to another. Perhaps someone has had to move to another country, not of their own choosing.

Then read, and experience, the poem. Ask children what they like about it, and what puzzles them about it. What does the line ‘with a smile or a fist‘ mean?

More poems about refugees

Other poems about refugees include We Refugees by Benjamin Zephaniah, though the reading is not by him.

This video is of a poem by a 12-year-old girl called Reema who had to flee Syria after her school was bombed. It was made by Oxfam America.

If you have suggestions of other poems about refugees, I would be pleased to receive them.

Everyone Sang by Siegfried Sassoon

This is a well-known poem by Siegfried Sassoon, written shortly after the signing of the Armistice in 1918.

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields;
on–on–and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away … O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless;
the singing will never be done.

Siegfried Sassoon

Here is a video of some secondary school children performing the poem.

There is a suggested lesson plan on this poem on the Poetry Archive. You can listen to Sassoon reading his own poem here.

Suggested activities

Begin with a picture of celebrations of World War One ending, then lead into the poem itself. Or begin with the words (this is what I did). Work towards a class performance. Do not discuss the meaning yet. Get children very familiar with the text itself. Give pairs one line of the poem and get them to learn it and rehearse it together. This should lead to a full class performance without having to refer to the text.

Whisper lines. Shout lines. Exaggerate lines. Respect lines. Say lines fast. Say lines slow. Say lines on your own. Say lines as a group. Say lines as a whole class.

Then think about these questions:
What were they celebrating?
Pick out words from the text which suggest a mood of joy and hope.
Why should they suddenly sing?
What is the setting for the poem? Which year is it? What has just happened?
Why is song important at a time like this?

Work towards a class performance which could be filmed. Ask a group to research pictures on the internet which could be used as a backdrop for the performance. Or record audio to accompany a Powerpoint or Moviemaker version of the poem.

 

Teaching the Holocaust through children’s poetry

Is the Holocaust a subject which is appropriate for learning in primary schools? My answer would be an emphatic ‘yes’. I was fortunate to be a student teacher at a village school which tackled this very subject as part of its World War Two project with a mixed Year Five/Six class.

Our main text for the unit was The Diary of Anne Frank which fascinated the children as they could identify with this young girl. My supporting text was the wonderful book Rose Blanche by Ian McEwan which examines resistance to the Nazis from within Germany, particularly by young people.

We also went on a school trip to The National Holocaust Centre and Museum at Newark in Nottinghamshire. The centre has a special programme for primary school children, called The Journey, which teaches about the Holocaust at an age-appropriate level and through the eyes of children. We were also fortunate enough to have a talk, followed by a question-and-answer session with a lady who had been on the Kinder Transport. You can watch a short video of children from various schools talking about their visit here.

So what can poetry add to primary children’s experience of learning about the Holocaust? Well the International School for Holocaust Studies has a series of poems, linked with artwork, which are accessible and suitable for Key Stage Three children. I think some of them could also be studied by Year Five/ Six children. Take Shema by Primo Levi.

Levi, a chemist, was deported to Auschwitz and survived the war. His novels and poems make powerful reading. You can read the full text of the poem here. There is also an illustrated version of the poem which can be downloaded from this link. This is an extract:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labors in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.

There are teachers’ notes with the poem, so there is no point me repeating them here. As with many of my suggested poetry activities, it might be useful to begin with the image (which shows three figures – two Holocaust victims, and one from the generation which survived). You could discuss who they might be, what lives they might have had, and how they are different.

I think that study of this poem does assume some knowledge already of the Holocaust, and it may be that it would fit in towards the end of a unit which has included learning about Anne Frank. Certainly the five lines shown above have enough in them to stimulate a mature debate about the rights of humankind. The debate could also be broadened to include discussion of discrimination in the world today.

Here is a video from the Yad Vashem project about the poem. Judge for yourself whether you think this is suitable for Years 5 and 6, but I think most children could cope with this content and would be interested to learn about it.

There is also a collection of poems written by children whilst in the Terezin ghetto and concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Here is a link to them. Pavel Friedman’s poem The Butterfly is especially powerful. It tells of the very last butterfly seen in the ghetto:

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone …

I think children could easily relate to this poem. Pavel is believed to have been 17 when he wrote it. He died in 1944 at Auschwitz and it wasn’t until after his death that the poem was discovered. The full text of the poem is on the above link. The poem could easily be used as a stimulus to artwork portraying the horror of the camps in contrast to the enduring beauty of nature. There is a song inspired by this poem here.

If you have used any poems about the Holocaust at primary level, I would be interested to hear about them and add them to this page. Similarly, if you have experience of primary children writing their own poetry about the Holocaust, please send me any examples which I could add here.

Note

National Holocaust Memorial Day is on January 27th 2015. You can find resources here.

The Christmas Truce

1914The Christmas Truce in 1914 is an inspiring subject which captures the imagination of young people. I once did a lesson on the Christmas Truce, looking at two songs about the incident, but treating them initially as poems.

The two works were Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney and Christmas 1914 by Mike Harding. Here are links to the songs:

This is the first verse of Christmas 1914 by Mike Harding. It is a beautiful poem and a lovely melody.

Christmas Eve, 1914, stars were burning, burning bright
And all along the Western Front the guns were lying still and quiet.
And men lay dozing in the trenches, in the cold and in the dark,
And far away behind the lines, a village dog began to bark.

Read the rest of the lyrics here. Christmas 1914 lyrics

Pipes of Peace lyrics – not overtly about the Truce, so should be looked at second

Suggested activities:

1. Show the picture (or similar) first. What is happening? Where are we? What is the date? Who are the people? Are they friends of enemies?

2. Look at the text of Christmas 1914. Read together. Use the five questions approach to studying the text.

3. Watch the video of the song Christmas 1914. How does this make you feel? Why wasn’t there a football match in Christmas 1915? What does this say about war?

4. Watch the Paul McCartney video of Pipes of Peace. How does this compare to the Mike Harding song? How is it different? Which do you prefer, and why?