This lesson is the second day delving into my topic of speaker and loss in poetry. We will examine two other poems. "Miniver Cheevy" is another poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson with the theme of an individual who becomes self-destructive because he is unhappy with his life. In this case, the subject wishes he were born in a different era. Again, we have a speaker who through diction reveals a tone or attitude toward Miniver. The speaker is almost condescending toward Miniver's depression. "Lucinda Matlock" by Edgar Masters offers a contrasting point of view that should illuminate the misconceptions of the subjects of the three other poems. Lucinda has had a difficult life, seemingly more difficult from the other poems, yet she has the best attitude toward life. She says, "You have to live life to love life," meaning hardship and strife are natural parts of life.
I often like to bring out a contrasting piece of literature to emphasize the overall point that I am trying to make. Through antithesis, students are able to see more clearly the central point of a work of literature if they examine its opposite.
These sections all work together to require students to make many inferences and consider new scenarios for the subjects of the poems. Essentially, they have to take the information extracted from the poems and apply them in a new activity.
I chose this poem because it follows the same pattern as the "Richard Cory" and "Luke Havergal" poems with an individual who is not happy with his life and is undergoing a serious internal conflict. We will read the poem as a class; I will chose a popsicle stick and select a student. Then, to reinforce the poem again, I will play the YouTube video. As I did with the other poems, I will have students complete a poetry critique sheet to look at the structure and techniques used in the poem. They will do this as classwork individually as I circle the room. Finally, I will have them add information to the triarch that was begun in the last lesson.
Students generally are very engaged with this poem and the other Robinson poems because of the deep internal conflicts that are portrayed. They can relate to the "Miniver Cheevy" poem since many students play video games as a form of escape. I mention to them that they exist in an alternate universe in some ways as they act out various scenarios in a video game. I sometimes ask them if given the chance would they live during another time? We can even take this question further by examining the benefits of living in the twenty-first century versus another era. What are the pros and cons? What will happen to Miniver Cheevy? These questions often bring up some interesting responses. Most students believe that Cheevy will meet the same fate as Cory and Havergal: he will commit suicide. I ask students if there is any other alternative for Cheevy. They come to the conclusion that living without technology is something that he has overlooked. If Cheevy really examined life in the medieval period he probably would not be depressed since the sanitary conditions were terrible and techology did not exist.
Again, students will follow the same format as the "Miniver Cheevy" poem. They will read "Lucinda Matlock," answer questions, and complete a critique sheet regarding the structure. Structurally, the poem is quite different from the Robinson poems. I want students to notice the lack of stanzas; in this case, there is one big stanza. There is no rhythm or rhyme scheme, and other poetic devices are scant. This poem of course is part of Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology.
I chose this poem because it serves as a stark contrast to the Edwin Arlington Robinson poems both in content and structure. Lucinda Matlock has had a life filled with strife and heartache. Yet, she is the most optimistic of all the poems and grateful for the time she lived. Unlike Richard Cory, Luke Havergal, and Miniver Cheevy, Lucinda accepts struggle as a major part of life and learns to live with the sadness that often accompanies living. She doesn't look for an escape; she stays the course. This is something that Cory, Havergal, and Cheevy cannot do. They do not know how to weather a storm. Matlock has made a life out of it. This idea becomes a life lesson for students, especially considering the difficulties of adolescence, that problems and struggles are temporary and are able to be overcome with time. Students are often fixed on immediate solutions to problems. They fail to realize that life is full of pitfalls that can be resolved with effort and resolve.
Hopefully, students will recognize the theme that life is filled with joys and sorrows, but they must be weathered not be used as an excuse to abandon life.
In this part of the lesson, I would like to wrap up the two days of lessons on speaker and point of view by creating a writing assignment where they have to incorporate all the information gained from each poem. This activity will be in the form of cooperative learning groups. The writing assignment will be in the form of a scenario where students must create a five minute dialogue between Lucinda Matlock and Richard Cory, Luke Havergal, and Miniver Cheevy. In this assignment, it will be necessary for students to synthesize the central ideas and themes of all the poems. My experience has been that students finally see the differences among the poems when they put the characters in a common setting. Lucinda Matlock emerges as the matriarch of all four poems offering her advice to the three struggling characters.
The scenario is as follows:
Lucinda Matlock is a therapist who is moderating group therapy among the three characters: Cory, Havergal, and Cheevy. All three come to therapy and describe their problems (internal conflict) to "Doctor" Matlock. All three must shed light on the suppositions offered by the speaker and the tone inferred through choice of words. For example, how does Richard feel when the townspeople "go without meat and curse the bread." Why was Richard always polite to the townspeople? Why does the speaker in "Luke Havergal" come from the dead to tell Luke that only death will cure his melancholy? Who is this man from the dead?
Students must raise at least three questions posed in each poem by the speaker and offer an insight from the character himself. This must be included in the dialogue. Finally, Lucinda, based on her life experience, offers some words of wisdom to each character on how they can better cope with their conflicts and lead a better life. Of course, Cory is dead, but we can suspend reality a bit and let him go to therapy for help.
Groups will be made up of four students: one for each character. Groups will be chosen by popsicle sticks.
Generally, students really attack this activity. They love delivering advice to Cory, Havergal, and Cheevy. Many students even relate to some of the internal conflicts of these characters and offer insights that I haven't considered.