A centenarian 'mongst men
Is rare; and if one comes, what then?
The mightiest heroes of the past
Upon the hillside sleep at last.
I asked them to use their knowledge of root words, as well as the context of the poem, to figure out what a "centenarian" might be. Sarah's guesses included such things as "a monster who eats 100 people?" and "someone who kills 100 people?" (to which Noah replied, "That would be a serial killer."). I asked them what the word "sleep" often signifies in poetic language, and their guesses were "rest?" and "battle?". So their perception of the meaning of the poem was that a monster killed 100 people who were taking a rest on a hill. After explaining that one, I moved on to one that I thought would be easier to comprehend:
The tide in the river beginning to rise,
Near the sad hour of parting, brings tears to our eyes;
Alas that these furlongs of willow-strings gay
Cannot hold fast the boat that will soon be away!
They had absolutely no clue what that poem was about either. One of them suggested crop failure and the other thought maybe war. I told them it's just a straightforward poem about a boat that is leaving. I asked them how the author felt about it, and praise God they recognized sadness as the emotion. I said, "What do you think 'these furlongs of willow-strings gay' are? Blank stares, and finally a tentative guess: "some sort of homosexual tree?" Sigh. After much prodding and many hints, someone finally realized they were ropes. In exasperation, they said, "Why doesn't it just say, 'I'm sad that the boat's about to leave, and they're going to take off the ropes'?" They don't see the beauty of poetic language.