The little Birds fly
Down to the calico tree,
Their wings were blue
And they sang 'Tilly-loo!'
Till away they flew,—
And they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!
A couple of years ago I was a school librarian desperately trying to encourage poetry reading and appreciation among students kindergarten-eighth grade. I was succeeding to a certain degree, but one afternoon I was sitting at my desk wondering if I ever would be able to get through the barrage of Disney princesses and Lego warriors to the just plain silliness of Edward Lear.
Among the things I tried with my students:
- Reading out loud in unison
- Colouring a picture with the words
- Clapping the rthymn
- Encouraging students to write their own silly ryhmes
The response was lukewarm and after my last class left I sat there wanting to cry from frustration thinking that such poems would be lost to the newer generations forever. Lucky for me I did what I often do when upset - listened to music. Suddenly I heard from my computer where Pandora had been merrily playing away - Calico Pie, Little Bird fly….WHAT? HOW? The very poem I had just read to the first graders. The tune was peppy and clean. I was so happy I felt like dancing. The voice sounded familiar. Was it Natalie Merchant? Yes, Yes it was. When given the option to listen to the whole album, I hit 'enter' so enthusiastically that my keyboard almost bounced off the the desk .
The rest of the afternoon passed in a dream, poem after poem set to music and sung with Natalie Merchant’s unique personal style. One poem was new: "Bleezers Ice Cream", by Jack Prelutsky, but most were classics; " Maggie and Milly and Molly and me"- by e.e. cummings and "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child" by Gerald Manley Hopkins.
Other verses like "The King of China’s Daughter" and "The Man in the Wilderness" were so well-worn into my memory that I couldn’t remember where I had first heard them. When I consulted Natalie Merchant’s website I found that she and I were worried about the same thing: how to give children a sense of poetry, a sense that past things should be remembered. Natalie wanted her young daughter to know poetry at an early age. So she composed music for a selection of her favorite poems. She looked up the background of each poet and added it to the package. The result is Leave Your Sleep, a beautiful collection of readable, singable poems. I have been singing them ever since. I am no longer a school librarian but I know that many of my students memorized poems through her music and I am inspired to know that there are still those who are using their talents to keep poetry alive.