Poetry Friday: Something Told the Wild Geese

ImageAs I was walking my dog this morning (thanks to another no-power day at school), a flock of geese flew overhead. “Something told the wild geese…” came to mind immediately. It is a typical November morning here in western CT: low, gray clouds, a light, chilly breeze and trees that are mostly bare. So even though the weather isn’t exactly like that in the poem, it still seems like a perfect poem to share today.

Something Told the Wild Geese

by Rachel Field

Something told the wild geese

It was time to go,

Though the fields lay golden

Something whispered “snow.”

Leaves were green and stirring,

Berries, luster-glossed,

But beneath warm feathers

Something cautioned “frost.”

All the sagging orchards

Steamed with amber spice,

But each wild breast stiffened

At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese

It was time to fly,

Summer sun was on their wings,

Winter in their cry.

Although I’ve never “taught” this poem, I’ve had a poster of it hanging in my classroom many times. Today, rereading it with the CCSS in mind, this poem seems tailor-made for the second grade Reading Literature standard: “Describe how words and phrases (e.g. regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song.” The repetition of the word “something” adds an element of mystery. What is this force that’s urging these geese away from the golden fields and summer sun? Vivid verbs personify the inescapable coming of winter in a way students will easily relate to at this time of year. (At least here in the northeast.)

I would begin a discussion by asking simply, “What’s going on in this poem?” As Calkins, et.al point out in Pathways to the Common Core (Heinemann, 2012), “…the absolute first order of business (Reading Literature Standard one) is that students need to be able to grasp what a text actually says and suggests.” (p. 39) Letting the students gather the details that point to autumn is excellent practice in inferring. I’d also ask the kids what questions they have, and hopefully they’ll wonder about “sagging orchards.” If not, pointing to this line and asking “What would make the orchards sag?” will get them thinking about trees heavy with fruit.

This poem also offers wonderful opportunities for vocabulary learning. The demands aren’t heavy, but “luster-glossed” and “amber spice” are marvelous phrases and are perfect for discussions of word choice. (Language Standard four and five)

A Google search turned up at least two different musical versions of “Something Told the Wild Geese” and many performances of the Sherri Porterfield tune. I prefer this clip, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sRIYcTNMhg sung by a group of very talented fifth graders. Repetition of “winter” at the end of the song offers a chance to discuss why the musician made the decision to emphasize that word.

I’m anxious now to share this poem with our second graders next week. I have some other ideas about how to follow up the discussion of the poem and song, but want to try them out with the kids first. I’ll share the results of our work next week.

For those of you who were affected by Sandy, I hope you’re lives are getting back to normal.