Poetry Unit Information

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Poetry Unit Information

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Title of Unit:
Understanding Yourself Thought the Words of Others

Target Class (Grade, socio-economics, reading level, etc.):
11th or 12th grade Language Arts, middle class, average to higher reading level

Essential Question:
How can we better understand ourselves through the works of others?

Why is it interesting and important to my target class?

Teenagers are looking for their identity and often find it through their understanding of other people, what they believe, how they feel, and how they perceive the world. Poetry offers unique insights into the lives of other people that can not easily be articulated in other ways.

Poems (in order of appearance):

Title (date of poem)
Author (dates)
Page or Poetry Packet (P.P.) Number
Poetry (1921)
Marianne Moore (1887-1972)
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now (1896)
A. E. Houseman (1859-1936)
Forever honored by the Tree
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
P.P. 1
I'll tell you how the Sun rose
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
P.P. 1
A Poison Tree (1789)
William Blake (1757-1827)
P.P. 2
My life had stood – a Loaded Gun (1863)
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
The Haunted Palace (1839)
Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)
P.P. 2-3
Musee des Beaux Arts (1940)
W. H. Auden (1907-1973)
The Great Titanic (1915)
Traditional American Folk Song
P.P. 4
The Convergence of the Twain (1912)
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Titanic (1983)
David R. Slavitt (b. 1935)
The Enigmas (1972)
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)
History of the Night
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)
P.P. 5
All Shall Fade (1954)
J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
P.P. 5
Durin's Song (1954)
J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
P.P. 6-7
Love (1633)
George Herbert (1593-1633)
Ethics (1981)
Linda Pastan (b. 1932)
English con Salsa (1993)
Gina Valdes (b. 1943)
Jabberwocky (1871)
Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)
next to of course god america i
E. E. Cummings (1894-1962)
That time of year thou mayst in me behold (1609)
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
The Highwayman (1906)
Alfred Noyes (1880-1958)
P.P. 7-9

Rationale for each poem:
Each poem in this lesson supports the essential question, how can we better understand ourselves through the works of others, to varying degrees. Some poems are included strictly because they illuminate the essential question, but they are useful in highlighting a particular poetic device for study. Other poems in this lesson are included more for their lesson teaching potential, but they still support the essential question in some way. The goal in this unit was to include at least one poem in every lesson and allow students to respond to it in short free writing assignments, the prompts for which are almost all related to self discovery through the works of others. I highlighted three areas of self discovery on which I wanted to focus; each poem has a place within one of these categories. The first week is heavy with poems about trees. This is done on purpose to illustrate a theme that will be discussed later for use in their portfolios.

  • Poems about our relationship to other people
    • Poetry by Marianne Moore
      • This is a great introduction to poetry because it explains how one can relate to poetry, and the author's intention, in a poem. It helps people relate to authors of poetry and, ultimately, themselves.
    • A Poison Tree by William Blake
      • Discusses how we treat others and the consequences of anger toward others. Promotes awareness of others' positions and fits into a lesson on metaphors.
    • My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun by Emily Dickinson
      • For a lesson on metaphors, this poem is perfect. The students will be challenged to discover what is being said, but should lead to some level of self discovery once they do.
    • The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes as sung by Loreena McKennitt
      • Included in the section for its character interactions. Each of them treat the others in a different way, and students should consider how they would like to be treated and how they treat others. This is presented to the class through song, which is probably a welcome change to reading poetry, especially since it comes at the end of the unit.

  • Poems about our place in the world
    • Loveliest of Trees, the cherry now by A. E. Houseman
      • Author is relating the brevity of life and the importance of doing what you enjoy (self discovery) while highlighting the unmistakable trademark of lyric poetry which is studied in the following lesson.
    • The Haunted Palace by Edgar Allen Poe
      • Included for its use of extended metaphor, the self discovery comes with the students' ability to see themselves in terms of something else, as Edgar Allen Poe is seeing Porphyrogene in this poem.
    • Musee des Beaux Arts by W. H. Auden
      • On quiz day, students are only asked to freewrite. Their self discovery comes through thinking about their prompt: what does art give us that ordinary expression does not. The answer is in this poem.
    • Titanic trio of poems:
        • The Great Titanic Folk Song
        • The Convergence of the Twain by Thomas Hardy
        • Titanic by David R. Slavitt
      • These poems are included to help demonstrate how to identify and use theme in their final assessments. The belong in this category because they all discuss the perceived greatness of the ship, but it's insignificance at the same time when compared to the lives that were lost. It gives readers a perspective on their place in the world.
    • History of the Night by Jorge Luis Borges
      • Highlighting the permanence of night and our temporary natures as we label and attribute things to the night. Makes the reader ponder their importance by comparison. Included for the lesson on allusion as the author uses many.
    • All Shall Fade by J. R. R. Tolkien
      • Included for its use in a lesson where we look at sound, tone, and voice in poetry and prose. Tolkien wrote very poetically, even when he was just making up stories. The theme makes the reader ponder his or her importance in temporary existence.
    • Durin's Song by J. R. R. Tolkien
      • Another poem for use in a voice, tone, and sound lesson. The narrative nature of the poem gives the reader a sense of importance and heroism, topics that should be explored in self discovery.
    • English con Salsa by Gina Valdes
      • Included for self reflection. Freewriting on heritage, roots, what the student knows about it and what they would like to know more about. The lesson focuses on language and words in poetry. This poem mixes up language nicely.

  • Poems about what is ultimately important
    • Ethics by Linda Pastan
      • Poses a serious question to the reader through the speaker, what is worth more, an old person or a priceless piece of art. The speaker knows the answer, do you? This is useful for self reflection and that is all we are doing on quiz day besides the quiz.
    • Forever honored by the Tree by Emily Dickinson
      • Fitting for a day filled with Emily Dickinson poems and a lesson on rhyming because she used similar rhyme schemes to different effect in her poems. The theme is related to self discovery through observing simple events.
    • I'll tell you how the Sun rose by Emily Dickinson
      • Included for the same reason as Forever honored by the Tree, this poem also is good for discussing rhyme and self discovery through observing simple events and full awareness.
    • The Enigmas by Jorge Luis Borges
      • The speaker asks an important question: what will happen when I die? This poem requires serious self reflection and it is useful for a discussion on allusion since the author makes frequent use of them in his poems.
    • Love by George Herbert
      • The poem portrays Love as a personification, which is what we're studying in this lesson. It also shows Love to be the only thing of importance, the only power worth serving, a topic that might help people in their self discovery.
    • Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
      • Included in this category because it is meant to highlight that the words themselves are not important. What is important is the sense that something heroic is happening. The feeling is more important than the words, sometimes.
    • next to of course god america i by E. E. Cummings
      • Like Jabberwocky, this poem is included to illustrate the unimportance of word order, but the sense that is conveyed through reading the poem aloud. It works well in the lesson's activity.
    • That time of year thou mayst in me behold by William Shakespeare
      • Included to allow students to reflect on the importance of love and how that concept has changed in the past 500 years. Allows for reflection on how poetry has changed as well. Freewriting asks students to discuss their preferences between classical and contemporary poetry.


- Week 1
- Working with and understanding the basics of poetry (Dramatic, lyric and narrative poetry; rhyme; metaphor and simile).
- Introducing the expectations of final project
- Preliminary topic exploration for final project

- Week 2
- Making connections between poetry and other art and literature
- Continued work on understanding poetry basics (theme, personification, allusion, voice, and tone).
- Portfolio theme development

- Week 3
- Working with technology to create electronic personal portfolio
- Reflecting on process
- Continued work on understanding poetry (Word choice, diction, reading poetry aloud, song)

Unit Assessment:
The unit assessment will take the form of an online personal portfolio. This portfolio will include an introduction; at least 7 literary or artistic items (may include excerpts of literature, a link to an entire online work, etc), 4 of which must be poetry; at least two links to articles or other websites dealing directly with the chosen theme; 2 reflections from the freewriting prompts, cleaned up into a publishable draft; one piece of personal work, either an essay about an element of poetry we have discussed, or an original work of poetry using an element we have discussed in class; and finally, a concluding reflection on the process of creating the portfolio, what you would like to have had more time to work with, other themes you might have been interested in, etc.
Pictures, backgrounds, organization, etc. will be modeled, but left up to the student in the end. All material should be appropriate and understandable. Help with uploading and manipulating files will be offered throughout the process and modeled for the class on at least two occasions. Examples will be available, to which students may refer at any time. The point of the assessment is for students to demonstrate their understanding of theme in literature and poetry, their knowledge of poetic devices, and their path of self discovery throughout the unit