The Secret Code of Poetry and the Art of Understanding It


Literature, Grades 7-9

This unique Catholic poetry course combines poetry appreciation with an in-depth study of how a poem works. Hands-on activities and memorization assignments increase student’s appreciation for the beauty of poetry.


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The Secret Code of Poetry is unique among poetry courses not only for its Catholicity, but also because it combines poetry appreciation with an in-depth study of “how a poem works.” 

  • Hands-on activities and memorization assignments increase the student’s appreciation for the beauty of poetry
  • clear explanations and step-by-step analysis assignments de-mystify poetic techniques such as enjambment, alliteration, meter, irony, and more

The Secret Code of Poetry is an ideal preparation for high school literature studies. Even as it reflects on the beauty and truth in poetry, it also teaches skills that are crucially important for future literature studies. These skills are even more necessary for students who plan to attend college, since the ability to critically analyze texts and ideas is central to a college education.

In particular, the student will learn to:

  • decipher difficult grammar and word-choice to grasp the essence of what is being said
  • look beyond the literal level of a text
  • pay attention to details, thinking about what they mean
  • study the structure of a work and the relationship between its whole and its parts
  • discern what is most important in complicated ideas
  • understand irony
  • think through ideas for himself

Each lesson ends with activities that engage the student’s attention and allow him to practice what he has learned, including: 

  • “Practice!” and “Analyze This!” assignments
  • poetry memorization and recitation
  • compiling a personal poetry anthology
  • writing an original poem

Together, the text and workbook form a complete, one-year literature course for seventh, eighth, or ninth grade.

The Student Text contains 27 lessons and a 30-page anthology of select poems. This anthology consists of more than 100 favorite poems by poets such as Dickinson, Frost, Hopkins, Wordsworth, and Shakespeare, and includes all the poems needed to complete the activities in the text and workbook. 

The Student Workbook includes activities, assignments, tips for writing poetry, unit tests and reviews, and a complete answer key (including answers to “Analyze This!” assignments). 

The Secret Code of Poetry is recommended for seventh- through ninth-grade use. A daily schedule for this program is available in CHC Lesson Plans: Eighth Grade or The Secret Code of Poetry Daily Lesson Plans.

Before we begin…: Introduction and terminology

Unit One: What is poetry?: Poetry stirs our emotions
Bones and muscles in a poem
Poetry means more than it says; The secret code of poetry
Analyzing poetry

Unit Two: Sound and Imagery
Alliteration and onomatopoeia
Scanning a poem

Unit Three: Poetic Devices
Expressing the inexpressible
Ellipsis and hyperbaton
Organization in a poem
The purpose of irony and how to recognize it
Verse forms
Writing a poem: Writing and reciting your poem

Unit Four: Analyzing a poem on your own
Analyzing a poem, step by step
Reading as pattern recognition

Unit Five: A short history of poetry
Biblical, Greek, and Latin poetry
Poets in the Middle Ages
Early Modern poetry
Romanticism and the Catholic Revival
The Modern Era

The Divine Poet
Poetry and literature

Product Code: SCP-T
Format: Softcover
Binding: Perfect bound
Page Count: 184 pages
Dimensions: 8.5″×11″
ISBN: 9780983683261
Returnable? Yes, view return policy.
Consumable? No, purchase one per family.
Answer key: None required.

Product Code: SCP-W
Format: Softcover
Binding: Perfect bound
Page Count: 100 pages
Dimensions: 8.5″×11″
ISBN: 9781946207463
Returnable? Yes, view return policy.
Consumable? Yes, purchase one per student.
Answer key: A removable answer key is included in the back of the book.

RoseMary C. Johnson was homeschooled with CHC materials from preschool through high school. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Dallas with a Bachelor’s degree in English and a concentration in Greek. She completed a Ph.D. in Literature at the University of Dallas. RoseMary is the now the General Editor of CHC’s publications, including The Treasure Trove of Literature and Ever Ancient, Ever New: Art History, Appreciation, Theory, and Practice.

Q: The description for The Secret Code of Poetry states that it is unique for its Catholicity. Can you elaborate more on this? How is our Faith woven into this product?

A: The Secret Code of Poetry is Catholic in two main ways. First, in the selection of poems, both those that are included and those that are not included. The program includes all sorts of poems, but we took the opportunity to introduce the student to many great Catholic poets they might not otherwise become familiar with, such as Robert Southwell, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Francis Thompson, Alice Meynell, G.K. Chesterton, and Joyce Kilmer. We also were very careful to avoid poems with immoral or suggestive themes, choosing poems that would be uplifting and age-appropriate for youthful readers.

More importantly, the program is Catholic in the way it defines and approaches poetry: that poetry is not simply art for art’s sake, but is an attempt to express aspects of the truth about God, human nature, and the rest of creation. The understanding of the poet as a sub-creator who “makes” poetry in imitation of God the Creator underlies the entire course. This understanding makes it possible for the author (and the reader) to make value judgments about poems and to evaluate some literary time periods as better than others, instead of being relativistic. At the same time, understanding poetry as a way of expressing the truths of reality allows the author (and the reader) to appreciate even works by poets who are mistaken in their religious/moral beliefs. As the author explains in one of the last chapters of the book:

“Such poets can still understand and communicate truths about man and the world, even though they might not have the fullness of Truth… Let us praise God for His generosity in giving us the ability to imitate Him by being ‘makers’ (poietes) according to the True and the Beautiful! Because we are perpetually surrounded by Truth and Beauty in Creation and in our fellow human beings, any poet who is open to understanding and communicating reality can capture at least a degree of truth and beauty in his poetry. And even if the poem contains an ‘admixture of error’ (as Aquinas would say) the beauty of what is true in the poem can still act as an ‘arrow’ to ‘guide the mind’ to the fullness of truth.”

Q: What sort of poems will my student be analyzing in the workbook?

A: The workbook includes “Analyze This!” assignments—with step-by-step questions and a complete answer key—for the following poems:

  • “The Tiger,” William Blake
  • “Trees,” Joyce Kilmer
  • “Silver,” Walter de la Mare
  • “The Captain’s Daughter,” James T. Fields
  • “A Christmas Carol,” G.K. Chesterton
  • “To a Snowflake,” Francis Thompson
  • “I See His Blood upon the Rose,” Joseph Mary Plunkett
  • “On His Blindness,” John Milton
  • “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” Anne Bradstreet
  • “Sonnet 65,” William Shakespeare
  • “The Man He Killed,” Thomas Hardy
  • “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • “God’s Grandeur,” Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • “Ode to Man,” Sophocles
  • “I Sing of a Maiden,” Anonymous
  • “The Pulley,” George Herbert
  • “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” William Wordsworth
  • “Night Clouds,” Amy Lowell

Q: Do I need to purchase the workbook or is the text sufficient?

A: The weekly activities and “Analyze This!” assignments in the accompanying student workbook are an essential component of the course, since they allow the student to practice what he has learned in the lesson. The workbook has been designed to work hand-in-glove with the text, so that the information in each lesson can be cemented in the student’s mind by practice activities before he is introduced to new concepts.

Q: I have a seventh-grade student and a ninth-grade student. Can I use The Secret Code of Poetry with both of them? Should I purchase a student text and workbook for each of them?

A: Seventh through ninth graders can greatly benefit from this course, especially since it is an ideal introduction to high school literature studies. By studying poetry together, your students will be able to discuss the poems they read with each other, which will greatly increase their appreciation and insight into the poems. Since it is important that each student has his own workbook, the price of the student workbook has been kept very low. However, if your students take turns reading the text or read it out loud together, it is possible for them to share a single student text.

Q: Why is this course called The Secret Code of Poetry?

A: As the author explains in the book, “Writers of literature try to pack as much meaning into their words as possible, because they know that the reality they are trying to express is greater than their words. Poetry, in particular, stretches language beyond its normal capacity by using sounds, images, and poetic devices as part of a secret code to affect our senses and emotions as well as our intellects…. In the end, both poetic and non-poetic forms of literature are united in a single task: to express reality as fully as possible…”

The Secret Code of Poetry and the Art of Understanding It has been a great asset for my 8th grader. It is very well written and easy to use for homeschooling. I love the perspective that poetry is useful for learning about God and nature. The text and workbook help the student to thoroughly analyze the poems studied. My student has really grown through the poetry memorization and recitations.
We just received our order including The Secret Code of Poetry. I have a precocious reader in the house and was lost as to what to do with her. This looks to be absolutely perfect—clear but not condescending, substantial without being overwhelming. I think we'll both be enjoying poetry this year.
The Secret Code of Poetry enabled my 11th grade son (under duress) to do the most dreaded thing he thought he never could do: WRITE A POEM! And with some coaching from mom, I don't think the end product is half-bad!

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