As December is upon us it seems fitting for this week’s featured poem to have a festive flavour. With Christmas Day hurtling towards us at lightning bolt speed, the following rhyme from Henry Van Dyke may inspire those who are yet to assemble their Christmas tree and adorn its branches to do so. This fir-tree soon discovers that decoration choice is of utmost importance.
The Foolish Fir-Tree
A LITTLE fir grew in the midst of the wood
Contented and happy, as young trees should.
His body was straight and his boughs were clean;
And summer and winter the bountiful sheen
Of his needles bedecked him, from top to root,
In a beautiful, all-the-year, evergreen suit.
But a trouble came into his heart one day,
When he saw that the other trees were gay
In the wonderful raiment that summer weaves
Of manifold shapes and kinds of leaves:
He looked at his needles so stiff and small,
And thought that his dress was the poorest of all.
Then jealousy clouded the little tree’s mind,
And he said to himself, “It was not very kind
“To give such an ugly old dress to a tree!
“If the fays of the forest would only ask me,
“I’d tell them how I should like to be dressed,—
“In a garment of gold, to bedazzle the rest!”
So he fell asleep, but his dreams were bad.
When he woke in the morning, his heart was glad;
For every leaf that his boughs could hold
Was made of the brightest beaten gold.
I tell you, children, the tree was proud;
He was something above the common crowd;
And he tinkled his leaves, as if he would say
To a pedlar who happened to pass that way,
“Just look at me! don’t you think I am fine?
“And wouldn’t you like such a dress as mine?”
“Oh, yes!” said the man, “and I really guess
I must fill my pack with your beautiful dress.”
So he picked the golden leaves with care,
And left the little tree shivering there.
“Oh, why did I wish for golden leaves?”
The fir-tree said, “I forgot that thieves
“Would be sure to rob me in passing by.
“If the fairies would give me another try,
“I’d wish for something that cost much less,
“And be satisfied with glass for my dress!”
Then he fell asleep; and, just as before,
The fairies granted his wish once more.
When the night was gone, and the sun rose clear,
The tree was a crystal chandelier;
And it seemed, as he stood in the morning light,
That his branches were covered with jewels bright.
“Aha!” said the tree. “This is something great!”
And he held himself up, very proud and straight;
But a rude young wind through the forest dashed,
In a reckless temper, and quickly smashed
The delicate leaves. With a clashing sound
They broke into pieces and fell on the ground,
Like a silvery, shimmering shower of hail,
And the tree stood naked and bare to the gale.
Then his heart was sad; and he cried, “Alas
“For my beautiful leaves of shining glass!
“Perhaps I have made another mistake
“In choosing a dress so easy to break.
“If the fairies only would hear me again
“I’d ask them for something both pretty and plain:
“It wouldn’t cost much to grant my request,—
“In leaves of green lettuce I’d like to be dressed!”
By this time the fairies were laughing, I know;
But they gave him his wish in a second; and so
With leaves of green lettuce, all tender and sweet,
The tree was arrayed, from his head to his feet.
“I knew it!” he cried, “I was sure I could find
“The sort of a suit that would be to my mind.
“There’s none of the trees has a prettier dress,
“And none as attractive as I am, I guess.”
But a goat, who was taking an afternoon walk,
By chance overheard the fir-tree’s talk.
So he came up close for a nearer view;—
“My salad!” he bleated, “I think so too!
“You’re the most attractive kind of a tree,
“And I want your leaves for my five-o’clock tea.”
So he ate them all without saying grace,
And walked away with a grin on his face;
While the little tree stood in the twilight dim,
With never a leaf on a single limb.
Then he sighed and groaned; but his voice was weak—
He was so ashamed that he could not speak.
He knew at last that he had been a fool,
To think of breaking the forest rule,
And choosing a dress himself to please,
Because he envied the other trees.
But it couldn’t be helped, it was now too late,
He must make up his mind to a leafless fate!
So he let himself sink in a slumber deep,
But he moaned and he tossed in his troubled sleep,
Till the morning touched him with joyful beam,
And he woke to find it was all a dream.
For there in his evergreen dress he stood,
A pointed fir in the midst of the wood!
His branches were sweet with the balsam smell,
His needles were green when the white snow fell.
And always contented and happy was he,—
The very best kind of a Christmas tree.
Henry Van Dyke
The Reader Organisation in South West England have been running Library Memory Groups in Wiltshire in conjunction with Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group for nearly a year now, with the four groups across the region attracting regular members as well as offering volunteering opportunities to people who enjoy reading and have the spare time to assist in facilitating in the groups.
Our Library Memory Groups in Wiltshire currently run in Warminster and Mere Libraries on Wednesdays and Royal Wootton Bassett and Pewsey Libraries on Thursdays (full details on our website). Library Memory Groups are especially designed for people living with dementia and other memory loss conditions as well as their carers to connect through shared reading and in many cases rediscover literature and the many memories and experiences it recalls. The group leader – Josephine – reads the poetry or short stories aloud in each session, allowing the literature to come to life within the room and for the members, with discussions following on.
There’s been a vast range of great literature read at the groups since they began, with a recent WW1 poetry session focusing on In Flanders Fields by John McCrae amongst others:
“One woman liked the mention of larks singing, and said that birds didn’t take any notice of boundaries. She envied them their freedom. Another person thought the description of life, in the second stanza, included below, very beautiful and moving. “It’s so simple, but says everything,” she said, “these are the important things in life: to see dawn, see the sun set, to love and to be loved.” “
As with the rest of our volunteering projects around the UK, our volunteers in our Library Memory Groups are highly valued, helping us to bring shared reading experiences to more people as Assistant Group Facilitators.For a small amount of time each week – one and a half hours – you can make a difference to the lives of people with memory loss, absorb yourself in great literature and receive fully funded training from The Reader Organisation: our next specially commissioned Read to Lead training course in Wiltshire is running in February 2015.
“It is unbelievably moving and it is a real joy. We all seem to know that this is a safe place as well; that everybody can share things and emotions and memories.” – volunteer for The Reader Organisation in Wiltshire
If you’re in Trowbridge, you can get a taste of shared reading in our Library Memory groups at a special Christmas themed taster session at Trowbridge Library on Thursday 18th December, 2-3pm. Come along to relax, read, listen and talk about stories and poems, carers welcome. Contact Josephine at email@example.com or call 07812 238503 for more information. There will be more sessions coming up in the New Year, so stay tuned to our social media channels for more details.
The effect of the sessions can be best seen from this wonderful poem that one of our group members from Royal Wootton Bassett wrote after regularly attending:
Our Reading Day by John Hooper
Thursday, it is our reading day
A day we enjoy in every way
We listen, learn and read
The social side is good indeed
A joke, a laugh, a cup of tea
The enjoyment for all is plain to see
Too soon we leave and go our way
But it sure has added to our day
The Reader Organisation in the South West runs Library Memory Groups in Wiltshire, Devon and Gloucestershire. For full information see the ‘Reading With Us’ page on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us
On Wednesday afternoon people from across the City descended on Blackburne House for the debut screening of the Give us 5 video. Produced by Jack-All Productions, the awe-inspiring film captures a glimpse of the power of reading for pleasure beautifully.
Over the past few weeks organisations and individuals have united with City of Readers to dedicate their time to the project; Blackburne House generously donated the venue and Brian Patten kindly allowed his poem to be read, as well as those who offered their time to be featured in the video.
Prior to the showing of the video, Director of City of Readers and our Founder and Director, Dr Jane Davis emphasised the importance of the work City of Readers do in their aim to make Liverpool the foremost reading city in the UK. Laura Lewis, one of our Schools Coordinators also shared heartwarming anecdotes detailing the impact reading has had on some of the children City of Readers work with.
Last term City of Readers reached 579 school children in 17 schools and conducted 372 reading sessions. In one school staff saw 75% of pupils with poor attendance improving attendance, with 88% of pupils more willing to independently choose to read. Another school said that 79% of reading scores had gone up over the Summer, with 17% staying the same. This is fantastic as most reading scores plummet when children are away from school.
The launch was an opportunity for people to learn about this worthy project, and to discover how they can get involved. City of Readers are delighted with the passion, dedication and enthusiasm shown by attendees to the launch. Amongst those who attended were representatives from Mersey Travel, Waterstones and Baltic Creative who all generously pledged to Give City of Readers 5 for reading.
Esteemed author Frank Cottrell Boyce has donated 5000 words to City of Readers. The final chapter will be read live at the forthcoming Penny Readings in December.
City of Readers urge everyone across Liverpool to get involved and Give us 5. So how can you pledge? Do you have 5 books that have been untouched in months? You could donate them to the City of Readers project. Or can you spare 5 minutes of your day and read to a loved one? For more ideas and details on how you can Give us 5, visit the City of Readers website here.
You can watch the Give us 5 by following this link or scrolling down to our blog post ‘Give City of Readers 5 and some exciting news at Calderstones’.
This week’s Featured Poem is an extract from a poem by George Crabbe, a poet, surgeon and clergyman well known for his realistic narrative and descriptions of working life and people.
One of our project workers recently read this extract at a shared reading session in a drug detox centre, with some incredible responses emerging:
“People in the group seemed to feel quite empowered by the poem. I think this sense of empowerment had something to do with the capacity for change allowed in the poem – even in the darkest lines when ‘absorbed by their peculiar cares,/ The vacant eye on viewless matter glares’, there was a sense for the group both of recognition ‘I know what that feels like’ but also the knowledge that you might be able to change what you see around you by shifting your perspective on the inside. Something about being self-aware of how your inside affects the external rather than experiencing world as feeling the external is impacting on you. ‘It’s like if there’s a sunset outside. You might be so caught up with what’s going on in here [the detox centre] – like if someone’s taken the butter out the fridge and not put it back – that you don’t see the sunset because you’re too busy saying ‘where’s the butter?’ – but the sunset’s still there – it’s just that you don’t see it.’ “
from The Lover’s Journey
It is the soul that sees; the outward eyes
Present the object, but the mind descries;
And thence delight, disgust, or cool indiff’rence rise:
When minds are joyful, then we look around,
And what is seen is all on fairy ground;
Again they sicken, and on every view
Cast their own dull and melancholy hue;
Or, if absorb’d by their peculiar cares,
The vacant eye on viewless matter glares,
Our feelings still upon our views attend,
And their own natures to the objects lend;
Sorrow and joy are in their influence sure,
Long as the passion reigns th’ effects endure;
But love in minds his various changes makes,
And clothes each object with the change he takes;
His light and shade on every view he throws,
And on each object, what he feels, bestows.
Following on from two recently published reports by the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool, there’s due to be more upcoming research looking into the benefits of shared reading.
Together with Goldsmiths University, London, CRILS will be running a 3 year research project examining and establishing the value and effects of shared reading sessions on individuals. The research is funded by Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital Trust and is part of our South London project, which focuses on a whole population approach to shared reading. A shared reading group which will be the focus of the research is to be set up in Croydon Central Library for an initial period of 24 weeks.
The project will continue ongoing research into the social and cultural value of shared reading, and is the first to take place in London, where our shared reading projects have been operating since 2009.
Last month, two new reports were published by CRILS examining the benefits of shared reading, looking in particular at the intrinsic cultural value of The Reader Organisation’s shared reading model as a particpatory and voluntary experience and further investigation into how shared reading impacts on improving quality of life for people living with dementia. Conclusions from both reports were positive, finding a series of factors which emphasise the humanising presence of literature and support previous research which has discovered benefits such as improved self-confidence, reduced stress, increased social interaction and community integration . You can download ‘Cultural Value: Assessing the intrinsic value of The Reader Organisation’s Shared Reading Scheme’ and ‘Read to Care: An Investigation into Quality of Life Benefits of Shared Reading Groups for People Living with Dementia’ on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/research
We’re currently looking for anyone who would like to take part in the new shared reading group in Croydon Central Library as part of this new and valuable research. Shared reading groups are informal and voluntary, with no pressure to take part in the reading – you can simply listen to the texts as they are being read aloud.
If you’re interested or would like more information, please call 0781 332 4852.