LEAven Blog


Poems Based on Photography, Paintings, Hymns, and Chants

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

 Pictures in any form can inspire our imagination and, more often than not, will cause us to express ourselves either verbally or in writing. The pictures we take with a camera usually have meaning for us. They bring to mind memories of the family, friends, and places we have been. They have value to us as visual reminders of the significant events in our lives. In this final blog regarding hymns and poetry, I’d first like to discuss ekphrastic poetry and discuss how digital photography can help students to stimulate the writing of various forms of poetry.

The same is true for paintings and other art done by children or by the great masters. Any piece of art can be the subject of an ekphrastic poem.

What’s Ekphrastic Poetry?

 Ekphrastic poetry is defined as: “A vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.”[1] The Greek word ekphrasis means “description” or “expression.” Here’s an example of an ekphrastic haiku[2] written by a fifth grader from Twin Falls, ID.[3]

Here’s another ekphrastic poem by a student that has some lines that rhyme and some that do not. It’s a bit like free verse at times.

Turning a Poem into a Chant or Hymn

 During my ten-day stay at Immanuel, Twin Falls, I took the pictures above and I had the children writing and performing poems based on them by the end of the school week. Some of the poems I set to music. For example, here’s a chant based on the rainbow poem above to a psalm tone:

Many people|won-der why*

A rainbow stretches|‘cross the sky.

It’s as simple| as can be,*

For, whenever you chance to see a|rain-bow,

God is finger |paint-ing*

A reminder that he| loved us so

He sent his | on-ly Son*

From heaven to|earth below;

And when we see a rainbow|we will know*

That God has|saved us all. End by singing the doxology as you would for any psalm in the hymnal.

 The poem above is very psalm-like. They can be done in rhyme as in metrical paraphrases of the Psalms that

you can find in the hymnal (see Psalm paraphrases on pg. 996 of the LSB, or pg. 1004 of Lutheran Worship).

Metrical paraphrases of Psalms are something that you could also do as class collaboration poems. For example: Psalm 117[1]

Praise the LORD, all you nations!

Give glory, all you peoples!

The LORD’S love for us is strong;

The LORD is faithful forever. Hallelujah!

Metrical paraphrase of Psalm 117– sung to LSB 673, LAND OF REST

(“Jerusalem My Happy Home” – Common Meter: 86 86)

1 All nations praise the LORD on high!

 All people sing His praise!

 His love is strong, His faithfulness

 Is with us all of our days.

2 Sing hallelujahs evermore

 To God who reigns above.

 Shout, “Praise the LORD who grants us grace

 And showers us with love.

∆ 3 All glory to the Father bring;

 All glory to the Son;

 All glory to the Spirit sing

 For all our God has done! Amen. [1]

 It is interesting to note that the twenty-four words of Psalm 117 can be paraphrased in rhythm and rhyme into a seventy-word hymn. Read some examples of metrical paraphrases of Psalms to the class and then let them try writing their own in small group settings.

Let Children Take the Photos and Publish Their Work

 Many, if not most, children have learned how to take digital photographs. My four- and six-year-old grandchildren use the parents’ cameras and my teenage grandsons know how to manipulate photographic images with the greatest of ease. Your students will be able to take nature photographs such as the ones included in this blog with little difficulty. They can provide you with digital copies and you can project them as children read their ekphrastic poems to the class. Many children will be able to put them into a PowerPoint or other digital projection format to share with their classmates as well.

Students can publish their poems in a booklet format[1] or post the poems on your school’s hallway bulletin boards for everyone to see. When I taught junior high students, we published (on a mimeograph no less) a booklet of poetry that the students had written throughout the year. It cost next to nothing to produce the booklets and we sold them for one dollar to parents, grandparents, and other friends and relatives. We made a lot of money and purchased many young adult books for my English classes.

 Perhaps you can do the same because nothing makes a parent more proud than to see their child’s name in print. The title of the booklet was, Poems in Patterns and Dreams. The students typed the booklet on the mimeo stencil, did the illustrations, mimeographed, stapled, edited (with a little help from me) and did all other production and sales legwork. Every student had poems in the booklet. Whenever I do an artist-in-residency with children, we do a similar project. It’s always great fun and I encourage you to try it as well.

“Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”

Job 19:23-25 ESV

Next Time: All Saint’s Day Preparations in Your Classroom

[1] See: Poetry Foundation at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/ekphrasis#:~:text=An%20ekphrastic%20poem%20is%20a,amplify%20and%20expand%20its%20meaning.

[2] A Haiku is a Japanese form or poetry that has three lines and is about nature. The first line contains five syllables, the second line contains seven syllables, and the final line has five syllables. The poem was written as part of an artist-in-residence program I led at Immanuel Lutheran School, Twin Falls, ID, in May of 2010.

[4] Try starting out by paraphrasing one of the short Psalms. For a listing of 10 short Psalms see: http://darbygray.blogspot.com/2013/06/10-shortest-psalms.html

 [5] All Nations Praise the LORD on High Copyright 2022 Jeffrey E. Burkart. All rights reserved. Use it with my compliments.

Dr. Jeffrey E. Burkart, former Associate Dean of the College of Vocation and Ministry and Coordinator of Lutheran Teacher Education, now serves in retirement as Emeritus Professor of Education and Artist in Residence at Concordia University, St. Paul, MN. He is a nationally known teacher, author, speaker, dramatist, poet and musician. Dr. Burkart has over 200 publications including 12 books, numerous professional journal articles, book reviews, chancel dramas, Christian musicals, hymns, poems, CD recordings, films and videos.

Before coming to Concordia, St. Paul, he taught in LC-MS elementary, junior high, and secondary schools in Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. He and his wife, Martha, have three grown sons (Jonathan, David and Andrew) who all are proud graduates of King of Kings Lutheran School and Concordia Academy, Roseville, MN.

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