Friday, 23 September 2016


Sadness is a theme we hardly ever touch upon in our teaching. However, sadness is an aspect of human condition and should be treated as such.
Sadness may be the result of loss, failure, absence of real communication -- among others. There is nothing wrong with being sad no matter how fiercely the concept of happiness or its pursuit is promoted by today’s society.

There are various ways of coping with the causes of our sadness and the feeling itself, and they vary among different individuals and cultures.
I am not suggesting wallowing in negative feeling; I am simply saying that we have a right to experience sadness or pain before we are able to deal with it. Suppressing sadness does not allow us to recover from it.
There is a well-known poem called Baby's Epitaph, which revolves round the death of a baby who was so tiny and skinny it went down the plug-hole while his mother turned to get the soap. The baby, however, is not lost, the angels reassure the mother. It has simply “gone before”.
At this remove from reality, the poem serves as a harmless representation of loss sparing the pupil’s feelings.

A mother was bathing her baby one night,
The youngest of ten and a delicate mite,
The mother was poor and the baby was thin,
Only a skeleton covered in skin;
The mother turned round for the soap off the rack,
She was but a moment, but when she turned back,
The baby was gone; and in anguish she cried,
"Oh, where is my baby?" — The angels replied:

"Your baby has fallen down the plug-hole,
Your baby has gone down the plug;
The poor little thing was so skinny and thin
He should  have been washed in a jug;
Your baby is perfectly happy,
He won't need a bath anymore,
He’s playing about with the angels above,
Not lost, but gone before."

The poem is dramatic: the narrative strand tells the story of the baby falling down the plug-hole owing to a momentary lapse of attention on the part of the mother while the dialogue between the mother and the angels puts our mind at rest: the baby is happy to have joined the ranks of angels.

The way I approach this poem is the following: I have made several copies of the poem on plasticated cardboard so I cut them into as many strips as the lines of the poem. I jumble the lines of each copy and hand a set out to either individual students or groups of them – depending on the size of the class. Then I ask them to reconstruct the poem by putting the lines in the right order. Once they have done this, I ask them to tell me the story without any dialogue. 

Discussion is optional: when you know your students well, you know whether they feel like a follow-up conversation on this particular topic or are happy with having imbibed the poem. Often they do want to share moments of sadness they have experienced, and it can be unexpectedly therapeutic. All one has to do is follow their instinct with kids. 
Another topic of discussion could be the size and structure of the family in the past and today or in different societies of our time.(the youngest of ten)

 An image may trigger further reflection, and Edvard Munch represents, to my mind, the master of sadness in artistic terms. The painting above is called Girl by the Window and could be used in various ways to encourage discussion among the students. Alternatively it could be used by way of introducing the topic.

Language of the poem:
One could extend use of Past Tenses as well as Present Perfect Simple for recent actions.

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