The Power of Poetry: Exercising the Capability to Feel
There are times in life when reading or listening to a beautiful construction of words is simply necessary. The human psyche remains a complex mystery of emotion, and poetry allows us to understand and label the vast array of feelings that humanity shares. Poetry invites us to exercise empathy: the ultimate muscle of emotion.
Memorization and Recitation
Throughout the third quarter, all students at Avon Old Farms, the CT private high school for boys, are required to memorize and recite a poem in class. This process culminates with a school-wide poetry contest. By studying, memorizing, and sharing poetry, a unique bond is formed that connects the oldest senior to the youngest freshman. Through this exercise, each year, we gain insight into all facets of humanity that often get lost in our confused world. As men, it is important to embrace this humanity, become more empathetic, and strive to understand the complexities of human emotion and behavior.
I’m often asked by students, “why am I learning about poetry?” Or, specifically, in regard to the exercise of recitation, “why do I need to memorize and recite a poem?” Herein rests the curiosity that educators wish to inspire.
Three Reasons Why We Value Poetry
First and foremost, poetry is an art form that predates literacy. “In preliterate societies, poetry was frequently employed as a means of recording oral history, storytelling (epic poetry), genealogy, law and other forms of expression or knowledge that modern societies might expect to be handled in prose.”
Second, poetry is a beautiful construction of language. Creative forms allow individuals to explore complex emotions. We want students to discover the intricacies of human emotion, developing their own sense of the world we live in and what type of person they want to become.
Lastly, the poetry contest is a special experience that is shared with all brothers, past and present, at the New England boarding school Avon Old Farms. Having recited a poem in class, students understand and know the challenges of working with a poem, making the words their own, making the words authentic, and sharing those discoveries with peers. Students appreciate the courage, skill, and heart required to execute this task, and empathy begins to work.
As we study poetry, it is imperative to be present. Be captivated. Don’t just listen or read. Feel.
About the Author
English Department Chair