Speaker and Loss in Poetry
Lesson 1 of 5
Objective: SWBAT evaluate a speaker's point of view and use evidence and rhetoric/poetic devices by analyzing the author's choices.
In this lesson, I will present three poems by poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. Each of the three poems has a character experiencing a several internal conflict. Students usually can relate to the characters since each character is completely miserable in his life. I like to use these poems because they are pretty easy to understand and they allow students to see commonalities in technique and theme among several poems by the same poet. In these three poems, I am going to concentrate on speaker and the theme of death because these concepts are the most distinct elements of each poem. If anything else, the theme should keep students engrossed because each character is looking for an escape--death--to relieve the misery of his life. Additionally, it should be quite clear for students to gather tone, word choice, and the general motivations and purpose of the speaker because the poems are not complicated and techniques are quite obvious.
Edwin Arlington Robinson
I will give students notes on Edwin Arlington Robinson using the attached PowerPoint. I like students to know a little about the author and common themes and style that he imports into his work. Sometimes this helps them understand the work.
We will then delve into the definition of an obituary and an epitaph. I will review in a PowerPoint. Once students are familiar with both, I will ask them to write an epitaph about themselves that they would like to see on their tombstone. To be honest, students usually hem and haw about this assignment, but I find their complaints refreshing because it means that an assignment has hit a nerve, which is better than total apathy. I will pull popsicle sticks and ask students to read their responses.
Essentially, my goal is to relate to the inner struggles of Robinson's characters. On the outside, his characters seem well adjusted and reticent on their personal struggles. However, their actions indicate a much more tortured individual. The purpose of the epitaphs is for students to see that sometimes we view ourselves much differently from the way others view us.
Before we begin reading the poems, I like to stress a bit of a protocol for reading poems in my class. First, we use the critique sheet that was mentioned in a previous lesson. This is a one-size-fits-all handout that asks students to look for poetic devices. Not all devices will be found, but most are. The first part of my protocol is to study the structure of the poem and techniques. We will fill in the critique sheet to keep track of which devices are used. Secondly, we delve into the message of the poem and the speaker. Students will answer questions about the poem on the poem itself and link answers to specific lines in the poem. I like to give students a handout of poems because that allows for marking up the text with notes, etc.
For all the poems in this unit, we will read the poem twice. I will "volunteer" a student and then I will reinforce the poem by playing the above video. I find that in poetry students need to hear it more than once in order to get the gist. After the video, they will answer questions about the poem that are on the sheet. I will probably give them five minutes and then I will pull popsicle sticks to hear student responses and begin a general discussion. Some questions I may ask are:
- Who is the speaker?
- What does he want Luke to do and why?
- Why is Luke morose?
Students may not get the Western Gate reference, which pretty much leads to the entire central point of the poem. I often have to prompt them by asking them about what the "west" usually represents. I tell them to think about things in nature. After a few minutes of back and forth, someone will suggest that the sun sets in the west. I then ask them what it means when they are watching a movie and the main character walks off into the sunset. They usually respond that the movie is over. I then ask them to relate that idea to the Western Gate. Students will finally understand that "West" means death. That opens the floodgates to the poem's understanding that Luke is looking at death as the only way to see his loved one again.
We will read this poem twice. I will "volunteer" a student and then I will reinforce the poem by playing the above video. I find that in poetry students need to hear it more than once in order to get the gist. After the video, they will answer questions about the poem that are on the sheet. I will probably give them five minutes and then I will pull popsicle sticks to hear student responses and begin a general discussion. Some questions I may ask are:
Who is the speaker? How do you know? If Richard is rich, why isn't he happy?
Putting It All Together
In this section, I want students to literally see the commonalities that both poems share. We will complete a triarch and look at the speakers and tone, the conflicts of the characters, and why the poet made certain choices. Following the completion of the triarch, I will begin a discussion on speaker and tone. I will ask the class the following questions to facilitate the discussion:
- Why are these characters so unhappy?
- What events in their lives would make them feel this way?
- Why does Robinson not let us know what those events are?
- Does it seem that part of the poem is missing?
- What is the speaker's attitude toward the subject of the poem?
- How do you know this?
- What lines present a clear vision of the poem's tone?
- Does Robinson have a tendency to use certain poetic devices?
- Why do you think so?
My goal is for students to see that the speaker and the subject of a poem are two different entities and that the speaker's attitude or tone toward the subject is revealed through specific word choice. For example, in "Richard Cory," the speaker says, "We cursed the bread and went without meat" to indicate the economic standing of the townspeople versus Cory. The irony is, though, Cory is the one unhappy and the one who takes his own life, despite the fact that he seems to have all the advantages. Again, we can take this theme all the way back to Gatsby and the pursuit of the American Dream--perhaps success is not enough for some people.
For homework, students will write an obituary for Richard Cory and Luke Havergal. They will have to infer some things about their backgrounds based on the information extracted from the poem. In order for students to be successful in this exercise, they are going to have to make inferences from the word choice/diction and phrasing in the poems. Essentially, students will perform a close reading and identify those inferences grounded in the text. These are the activities that make this lesson Common Core aligned.
The obituary will include the following pieces of information:
- Name and age
- Cause of Death
- Place of birth
- Background information