The Harp and the Laurel Wreath

Poetry and Dictation for the Classical Curriculum
Book cover: 'The Harp and the Laurel Wreath: Poetry and Dictation for the Classical Curriculum'
Ignatius Press
Number of pages: 
493 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Resource Type: 

At the rate Laura Berquist is going, homeschoolers are going to need an extra shelf just for her books. Her first, Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, has already become a classic in its own right. And now Berquist has another book that requires a place in your home: The Harp and The Laurel Wreath. The author begins with the premise that early exposure to poetry encourages a love of the true and the beautiful; memorization of poetry trains the intellect and the imagination; and all of this is good for the soul. Berquist recognized, however, that some homeschoolers may neglect poetry and other fine arts in favor of the "basics". So, she chose over 200 of the most beautiful poems and prose selections in Western Literature, added wonderfully helpful instructor's materials, including discussion questions (with answers), definitions, and indices, and ended up with a work so eminently usable that even the most time-pressed homeschoolers can include poetry in their curriculum.

Her choice of poems is flawless. She has included all those listed in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, and leans heavily on the classics, as you would expect (Shakespeare, Browning, Keats, Longfellow), but rounds it out with a variety of other authors and poems (including my mother's favorite, High Flight: "Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth....") In addition to poetry, there are "Selections to Memorize": great works of prose such as Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and Patrick Henry's famous oration. and "Selections for Dictation". She's organized the book according to the stages in the classical curriculum: Grammatical, Dialectical, or Rhetorical. There's even a section for "The Early Years", with lots of favorites from Robert Louis Stevenson and others, as well as a page of Bible verses. And to make this section even more appealing to the littlest homeschoolers, the font is larger there than in the rest of the book.

If this book is a starting point for you, then you'll want to add additional anthologies. To really infuse a love of poetry in your children, and to have a broad enough range of poems for reading aloud as well as memorization, you need work by children's poets such as Dorothy Aldis and Christina Rossetti. In addition, consider purchasing a beautifully illustrated version of Stevenson's Leaves from a Child's Garden of Verses, such as the one by Donna Green (even though many of the poems are reprinted in The Harp and Laurel Wreath), as well as a more eclectic volume such as "Talking Like the Rain" (X. J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy).

But even if you already have dozens of volumes of poetry, you need this book. Berquist understands the true purpose of education, she knows what homeschooling moms need, and she knows how to put it all together in an attractive package. Start building another shelf!

Additional notes: 

There's a rather serious typographical error on page 128 of the first edition which I'd like to bring to your attention. Under The Preamble to the Constitution the phrase

UPDATE: (2/23/2000) This error has been corrected in the latest reprinting.

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