As often happens, writing about something puts me on some vibrational wavelength that magnetically attracts other similar thoughts. Yesterday’s blog was about immersing children in a song culture, filling their storehouse with a wide range of profound, funny, dynamic, soothing, storied songs that will see them through the long Winters of the soul and enhance their bright Springs and Summers. Then this morning I “just happened” to re-read this glorious passage from the poetry collection “The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart” (Robert Bly, James Hillman, Michael Meade).
“While our European-American tradition questions and argues, and has to teach poetry to sullen students in English classes, other cultures, speaking Spanish, Russian, Arabic, to say nothing of the many tongues of Africa and the Indian subcontinent, grow up inside poems, drenched through with poetic metaphors and rhythms. As we learn to criticize, to take a poem apart, to get its meaning, they learn to listen and to recite.”
“Growing up inside poems, drenched through with poetic metaphors and rhythms.” I often talk about immersing children in the bath of music and so the “drenched” verb above is spot on. To live inside the song and to absorb the essence of it like a sponge. (This the metaphor Maria Montessori’s uses in her brilliant book “The Absorbent Mind” to describe how children learn in the first five years of life.) So while later, we will take some time to analyze and verbalize the components of music, to take the music apart and put it back together, the first step is always to step into the water. Absorb the whole of it through the pores of the skin, adjust the temperature as necessary, soak or swim or float or doggie paddle as needed, begin simply by the pleasure of immersion in water and step out cleansed and refreshed.
Bly, Hillman and Meade continue:
“We live in a poetically underdeveloped nation. People blame their own lives for a deficiency in the culture. For, without the fanciful delicacy and the powerful truths that poems convey, emotions and imagination flatten out. There’s a lack of spirit, of vision. The loss in the heart appears as a loss of heart to take up the great cultural challenges that are part of every man’s citizenship. It is in this sense that we have come to think that working in poetry and myth with people is a therapy of the culture at its psychic roots.”
Breathtaking. Could be a music educator’s mission statement. Song (which is sung poetry) carries “fanciful delicacies and powerful truths” and children who grow up without it will not grow into the full promise of their emotional and imaginative life. They will become voters unprepared to fulfill their responsibility, citizens unable to think with head and heart connected. They will mindlessly accept leaders without spirit or vision because they lack both themselves. Thus “working in poetry and myth” and song with children is a deep “therapy of culture at its psychic roots.”
It’s another warm summer day in San Francisco. Time to jump into the water with the children.