Things that go 'bump' in the night;Subject of the week;English

17th September 1999 at 01:00
NIGHT-TIME IN MID-FALL. By Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

* It is a storm-strid night, winds footing swift

Through the blind profound;

I know the happenings from their sound;

Leaves totter down still green, and spin and drift;

The tree-trunks rock to their roots, which wrench and lift

The loam where they run onwards underground.

* The streams are muddy and swollen; eels migrate

To a new abode;

Even cross, 'tis said, the turnpike road;

(Men's feet have felt their crawl, home-coming late):

The westward fronts of towers are saturate,

Church-timbers crack, and witches ride abroad.

Thomas Hardy's poem is well-suited to children in Years 6, 7 and 9. Here are ways of using it in the classroom.

1. Begin with an introductory chat. Can you remember a really powerful storm? Where were you? Was it day or night? What did you hear? What did you see? What kind of damage occurred? If a really strong wind were to blow around your house, what might happen?

2. Read the poem. Once silently; once aloud; once with children taking a couple of lines each. Now move to ideas for thinking or talking or writing: Hardy says about this stormy night, "I know the happenings..." Mention some of them.

In the second verse Hardy talks about something that some people felt with their feet as they were coming home late at night. What is it? How would this feel to you?

Choose either the first line of the first verse or the first line of the second verse. Now try to describe its meaning to your neighbour with actions, not words.

Say the same line to yourself a few times; lift your eyes from the page and say it quietly aloud so that it gets fixed in your head. Do the same with the second line and add it to the first. How far can you get doing this?

Choose a detail of the stormy night which you think Hardy has described well and draw it. Try to work into the drawing a line or two from the poem, making them appear as, say, branches of trees or patterns of water or leaves, as parts of objects being disturbed by the storm.

3. Writing in response: Imagine a stormy night around your house, or in woodland, when the whole world seems wildly disturbed. List some interesting happenings - where things bend, strain, are uprooted, are damaged or sent flying. Now try turning these into a poem in which you try to make the storm come alive again.

Roland Molony teaches at Sidmouth College, Devon

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