Contributed by: Marlene Orloff, Upper Arlington School, Columbus, OH
In the past, when I have presented British poetry to my sophomores, both in Honors and Intermediate classes, they have felt far removed from the poets and the situations they describe. In addition, the language is often so antiquated that they immediately discount the poem. Because rock music can serve as a way to increase student interest in the curriculum, and a way to help students make sense of who they are and what their place is in the world, asking students to bring in their own music to teach each other poetry can foster a student-centered classroom environment where literature is intelligently and relevantly discussed. After modeling the process of connecting poem to song, the teacher gives up the spotlight, and turns it over to his/her students.
The student will:
- become exposed to important, classic British poetry;
- reveal who they are through song;
- identify and discuss the thematic connection between a poem and a song of their choice;
- enrich their understanding of poetry through an in-depth analysis of literary devices in the song and poem;
- enrich their understanding of literary devices through an in-depth analysis of how they are used in the song and poem;
- improve their ability to work collaboratively;
- improve their public speaking/presentation skills;
Suggested for English students, any level, grades 10,11, and 12
One-two class periods per group (three students per group)
CD/tape player, handouts of song lyrics and poem for each student, discussion questions, directions sheet
Depending upon the ability of the class, students may need some guidance in general poetry interpretation; some of the earlier British poems have difficult language. But once they start employing literary analysis techniques, the meaning will be more clear (they may also need a literary devices review).
Modeling also helps. Before I assign this project, I model the process using the Natalie Merchant song “Where I Go” to teach Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” and Keats’ “When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be.”
Although I tell them that Merchant is one of my favorite artists, at this time I also assure them that they will have an opportunity to bring in their own music; they will get a chance to reveal their taste and their interests to the class.
Since one of my objectives is to expose students to important British literature, I require that they choose from a list. I used our McDougall, Littell textbook along with the book Top 500 Poems, William Harmon, ed., Columbia UP.
- For this particular pairing we usually, if weather permits, go outside.
- I ask students how they deal with stress. Do they ever “go somewhere” to escape everyday life? What do they do when the pressure gets too intense?
- Students often answer with nature. We then discuss why nature has such a powerful, positive effect on us. I remind them how much they love to have class outside!
- I have students answer a questionnaire to find out how stressed out they are and how well they cope with stress. I use an interesting test from a book called Who Are You? by Maya Pilkington and the Diagram Group, Ballantine Books. ( I modify it a bit.)
- I then tell them I’d like to share a song with them by one of my favorite artists - Merchant’s “Where I Go.” I ask them to think about what this song means to them, and how the speaker’s attitude toward stress and everyday life differs from their own.
- After the song, we discuss their reactions (including whether they like the song!).
- To get other perspectives, we read Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” and Keats’ “ When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be.”
- I then ask students the following questions.
- Has the speaker in Wordsworth’s poem planned this encounter with the daffodils? How do you know? How does the situation differ from the speaker’s encounter with nature in Merchant’s song?
- What effect does nature have on the two speakers? Use specific lines from the text to support your answer.
- Who might the audience be for each poem? In other words, to whom are the speakers speaking? What are the speakers’ purposes?
- Support the idea that both speakers periodically revisit their place in nature.
- What do the descriptions of the fence and the wall suggest about the speaker’s initial state of mind in Merchant’s song? How does this differ from the images and the speaker’s state of mind in Wordsworth’s poem? What do these scenarios have in common?
- Both Merchant and Wordsworth employ personification--Merchant’s “waters moving gracefully” and Wordsworth’s personification of flowers and the waves. What mood is created through Merchant’s personification? Wordsworth’s?
- What does the speaker fear in Keats’ poem? How does nature influence these fears?
- Examine the form of Keats’ poem. What is its structure and how does it differ from Wordsworth’s poem?
- Find examples of alliteration and assonance in Keats’ poem. What effect do these sound devices have on the reader’s perception of Keats as a writer?
- What kind of imagery is associated with the words “gleaned,” “garnered,” and “full-ripened grain”? Why is this imagery appropriate?
- Compare and contrast the tones of these three works. What details in each contribute to these tones?
- How are all three works examples of the Romantic tradition in literature?
- Now that they have participated in the process, I then pass out the directions sheet for the student project. As students work in groups of three, I circle the room, helping any group that needs it. (At the beginning of the year, I had students fill out a music survey; I assigned groups for this particular project according to similarities in taste that were revealed in survey results).
(Note: Another solid approach is to present the song and two poems without introduction, asking students to find the connection.)
When every group has presented, I assign a timed writing. Students will have two class periods to answer the following prompt in essay form. Explain the thematic connection between your poem and your song, analyzing the literary devices in each and how they enrich our understanding of both works. The rubric for evaluating this essay is included in this lesson.
“Where I Go” by Natalie Merchant (Tigerlilly/Elektra, 1995).
Other effective poem-song pairings to use a models are as follows: Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” with Auden’s “Unknown Citizen”; Natalie Merchant’s “River” with Housman’s “To An Athlete Dying Young”; and for an American Literature angle, Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” with John Updike’s “Ex-Basketball Player.”
As a follow up writing lesson, I have the groups reconvene after the timed writing and decide whose paper they will further revise. They must ask themselves, do we want to choose the highest quality paper or the paper we know best how to improve? What makes a paper high quality? Who best answered the prompt? After they choose, the writer of the essay constructs a typed, one-two page defense for why it was chosen. The other two group members choose either the role of editor or proofreader. The paper is given three grades: one for overall writing, editing, and proofreading.
Rock Poetry Contest
As a way to study British poetry and to make the study interesting and relevant to your life, I am asking that you, in groups of three, choose a poem (or two) and teach it to the class through a song (or two). The song should illuminate the central theme of the poem and therefore enhance our understanding of that poem.
First, peruse the list of poetry from which you can choose. Do any titles seem interesting? Using your textbook (since most of the poems are in there) and any other poetry sources, read some of the poems, and find some that you understand and like.
Second, what is the major theme/idea in this poem? What is the poet’s message?
Third, think of a song that reminds you of this poem. Perhaps the main point is similar, or the tone or diction. You can also illuminate the meaning of a poem by presenting a song with an opposite idea. Think about your musical tastes. Do you have any CDs at home that may have songs that relate to your poem? Make intelligent choices; you will use this song to enhance our understanding of the poem, both its theme as well as its structure and language.
Next, jot down a list of similarities and differences in meanings. Then, closely analyze the poem and the song for literary devices. Once you’ve found them, ask, how do these devices enhance my understanding of the poem? Use the discussion questions I used when I presented my poetry-rock connection as models. These questions should reflect thoughtful analysis of both the poem and the song, concentrating on the thematic connection you discovered. There should also be a strong focus on the literary devices as well lower level comprehension questions. Type these out; I will make copies for the entire class.
After you have constructed your discussion questions, prepare a presentation. The presentation should consist of both a discussion and a creative method to present your connection. You will need:
- discussion question copies and key
- a copy of the poem for the entire class (if it’s not in our textbook)
- a copy of the song lyrics for the entire class (I will give you web site addresses that provide lyrics).
- the song-we want to hear it, of course!
- some kind of visual and/or audience participation plan
When all the groups have presented, you will do a timed writing. You will have two class periods to explain your connection, focusing on theme and literary devices.
(With thanks to The Top 500 Poems, William Harmon, ed. , Columbia UP, 1992
“The Tiger”, Blake
“To Autumn”, Keats
“That Time of Year Thou Mayst in Me Behold”, Shakespeare
“Pied Beauty”, Hopkins
“Kubla Khan”, Coleridge
“Dover Beach”, Arnold
“La Belle Dame sans Merci”, Keats
“To the Virgins, Take Much Time”, Herrick
“To His Coy Mistress”, Marvell
“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”, Marlowe
“Death, Be Not Proud”, Donne
“Upon Julia’s Clothes”, Herrick
“To Lucasta, Going to the Wars”, Lovelace
“The World is Too Much With Us”, Wordsworth
“On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”, Keats
“The Second Coming”, Yeats
“Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?”, Shakespeare
“Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds”, Shakespeare
“Fear No More the heat o’ the Sun”, Shakespeare
“Ode to a Nightingale”, Keats
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, Eliot
“Anthem for Doomed Youth”, Owen
“When Icicles Hang on the Wall”, Shakespeare
“Batter My Heart, Three Person’d God”, Donne
“Love Bade Me Welcome”, Herbert
“Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley
“God’s Grandeur”, Hopkins
“Don No Go Gentle Into that Good Night”, Thomas
“Delight in Disorder”, Herrick
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, Wordsworth
“My Last Duchess”, R. Browning
“Ode on a Grecian Urn”, Keats
“Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802”, Wordsworth
“The Darkling Thrush”, Hardy
“Loveliest of Trees”, Housman
“Fern Hill”, Thomas
“Why So Pale and Wan, Fond Lover?”, Sucking
“Musee des Beaux Arts”, Auden
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Coleridge
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, Yeats
“The Eagle”, Tennyson
“When You Are Old”, Yeats
“Dulce et Decorum Est”, Owen
“A Valediction, Forbidding Mourning”, Donne
“The Lamb”, Blake
“She Walks in Beauty”, Byron
“When I Am Dead”, Rossetti
“A Red, Red Rose”, Burns
“To An Athlete Dying Young”, Housman
“The Canonization”, Donne
“Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”, Wordsworth
“To a Skylark”, Shelley
“When I Have Fears”, Keats
“How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways”, E. Browning
“The Oxen”, Hardy
“To a Mouse, Turning Up in Her Nest with the Plough, November 1785”, Burns
“The Wild Swans at Coole”, Yeats
“When I was One-and Twenty”, Wilde
“The Man He Killed”, Hardy
“The Demon Lover”, Anonymous
“When We Two Parted”, Byron
“The Lady of Shallot”, Tennyson
“Whoso List to Hunt”, Wyatt
“Love Among the Ruins”
“Sailing to Byzantium”
“Snake”, D.H. Lawrence
“Journey of the Magi”, T.S. Eliot
“Not Waving, But Drowing”
Do you listen to music?
If yes, how often?
What kind of music do you listen to? (Circle all that apply)
When do you listen to music?
Why do you listen to music?
Do you find your musical tastes are similar or different from your friends? Explain.
Your family? Explain.
Most teens? Explain.
What concerts have you attended in your life?
What CD’s have you bought lately? How much money per month do you think you spend on CD’s? Concerts?
Name your favorite band, musician, and/or singer.