Poetry by heart

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

On 11 October, Block 3 students were invited to attend and participate in a poetry event in the Dining Hall. Welcomed by members of the English department dressed in sheepskins and cloaks, and surrounded by candles, students and staff stood up to perform a poem they had learnt by heart in front of the roaring fire. Some took on Shakespeare and others invited the audience to join them in a rendition of a nursery rhyme.

Lilibet Viner gave a dramatic performance of Helena’s speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Sam Coleman told us what it was like to be a cupcake cooking in the oven; Clara Gardiner-Cox gave a moving rendition of Mary Elizabeth Frye’s Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep; and Miranda Robertson sang a luxurious yet spine-tingling version of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Half way through the event, the performances were paused for a delicious snack of hot chocolate and chocolate cookies. Then Jamie Thorogood’s performance of a marvellous poem about teachers, was marked by excellent comic timing; Dylan Hui delivered a word perfect performance of If by Rudyard Kipling and Greta Stilwell gave a gentle rendition of Wordworth’s Daffodils.

Zoe Tredgett wrote “The experience was great. It had a very nice vibe to it. I liked how everyone looked out for each other and listened to all the poems and stories. ”

Abi O’Donoghue wrote “Some of the pieces were funny, some were sad. I think it was a fantastic event and I would love for it to happen again. It was a very good way for us to try learning and performing poetry.”

The event, which was conceived and prepared by Lucy Mcllwraith, is the latest example of learning beyond the class room at Bedales. It consolidated the English Department’s new scheme of work which takes Block 3 on a journey through English literature beginning with the oral tradition of Old and Middle English.

There is no doubt that by learning poetry by heart, the poetic techniques first established in poems like Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Canterbury Tales, of rhyme, repetition and alliteration become powerful memory tools for the writers that followed. This was clearly outlined by Ian Douglas through his excellent delivery of a passage from The Lord of the Rings.  In learning to appreciate them close up, we all gain a greater appreciation of literature throughout the ages.