Poetry Unit

Below you will find a mix of classic and contemporary poetry. You can write on this paper,
highlighting, circling, and jotting down any notes you like. Some of the poems have themes in
[brackets] to help guide you in terms of what you should be looking at.
PART 1) Write a quote from any poem for each of the following literary terms:
a) Tone
b) Symbolism
c) Author’s Purpose (reflects what the author is attempting to say)
d) Personification
Note: You must identify the title and author of the poem you are quoting!
PART 2) By the end of the lesson covering all of the poems, you will choose one poem to
analyze in depth, focusing on the above bulleted aspects. This will take the form of an
informative essay and will be a summative.
PART 3) Write your own poem utilizing some of the literary elements you learned from the
poem you chose in Part 2. Consider theme, tone, motifs, symbols, metaphors, similes, and other
aspects to inspire your own work.
“The Baby”
by James Tate, 2013
I said, “I’m afraid to go into the woods at night. Please
don’t make me go into the woods.” “But somebody has stolen our
baby and has taken it into the woods. You must go,” she said.
“We don’t have a baby, Cynthia. How many times must I tell
you that,” I said. “We don’t? I felt certain that we had a
baby,” she said. “Then it makes no sense for you to go into
the woods at night. Without a baby to search for, what would
you do?” she said. “I’m going to stay right here by the fire
where it’s cozy and safe,” I said. “I’m going to go put the
baby to bed,” she said. “Someday there will be a baby,” I said.
“Until then I’ll put him to bed,” she said. “Have it your way,”
I said. She went out of the room humming a little ditty. I
put a log on the fire and lay down on the couch. Cynthia came
running into the room screaming, “The baby is gone! Someone
has stolen our baby!” “I never liked that baby. I’m glad
it’s gone. And I’m not going into the woods. Don’t even think
of asking me,” I said. “A fine father you turned out to be.
My precious baby eaten by wolves,” she said.
“Sonnet, with Pride”
by Sherman Alexie, 2014
[Prose Poem]
Inspired by Pride of Baghdad
by Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon
1. In 2003, during the Iraq War, a pride of lions escaped from the
Baghdad Zoo during an American bombing raid. 2. Confused, injured,
unexpectedly free, the lions roamed the streets searching for food and
safety. 3. For just a moment, imagine yourself as an Iraqi living in
Baghdad. You are running for cover as the U.S. bombers, like metal
pterodactyls, roar overhead. You are running for cover as some of
your fellow citizens, armed and angry, fire rifles, rocket launchers, and
mortars into the sky. You are running for cover as people are dying all
around you. It’s war, war, war. And then you turn a corner and see a
pride of freaking lions advancing on you. 4. Now, imagine yourself as
a lion that has never been on a hunt. That has never walked outside
of a cage. That has been coddled and fed all of its life. And now your
world is exploding all around you. It’s war, war, war. And then you
turn a corner and see a pride of freaking tanks advancing on you. 5. It’s
okay to laugh. It’s always okay to laugh at tragedy. If lions are capable
of laughter, then I’m positive those Baghdad lions were laughing at
their predicament. As they watched the city burn and collapse, I’m
sure a lioness turned to a lion and said, “So do you still think you’re
the King of the Jungle?” 6. I don’t know if the lions killed anybody
as they roamed through the streets. 7. But I’d guess they were too
afraid. I’m sure they could only see humans as zookeepers, not food.
8. In any case, the starving lions were eventually shot and killed by
U.S. soldiers on patrol. 9. It’s a sad and terrible story, yes, but that
is war. And war is everywhere. And everywhere, there are prides of lions
wandering inside your hearts. 10. You might also think that I’m using
starving lions as a metaphor for homeless folks, but I’m not. Homeless
folks have been used far too often as targets for metaphors. I’m using
those starving lions as a simple metaphor for hunger. All of our
hunger. 11. Food-hunger. Love-hunger. Faith-hunger. Soul-hunger.
12. Who among us has not been hungry? Who among us has not been
vulnerable? Who among us has not been a starving lion? Who among
us has not been a prey animal? Who among us has not been a predator?
13. They say God created humans in God’s image. But what if God
also created lion’s in God’s image? What if God created hunger in God’s
image? What if God is hunger? Tell me, how do you pray to hunger?
How do you ask for hunger’s blessing? How will hunger teach you
to forgive? How will hunger teach you how to love? 14. Look out the
window. It’s all hunger and war. Hunger and war. Hunger and war.
And the endless pride of lions.
by A.E. Stallings, 2000
(after the words of Penny Turner, Nuymphaion, Greece)
Our guide turned in her saddle, broke the spell:
“You ride now through a field of asphodel,
The flower that grows on the plains of hell.
Across just such a field the pale shade came
Of proud Achilles, who had preferred a name
And short life to a long life without fame,
And summoned by Odysseus he gave
This wisdom, ‘Better by far to be a slave
Among the living, than great among the grave.’
I used to wonder, how did such a bloom
Become associated with the tomb?
Then one evening, walking through the gloom,
I noticed a strange fragrance. It was sweet,
Like honey - but with hints of rotting meat.
An army of them bristled at my feet.”
* “My Papa’s Waltz”
by Theodore Roethke, 1942
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.
The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.
You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.
“Barbed Wire”
by Henry Taylor, 1985
One summer afternoon when nothing much
was happening, they were standing around
a tractor beside the barn while a horse
in the field poked his head between two strands
of the barbed-wire fence to get at the grass
along the lane, when it happened – something
they passed around the wood stove late at night
for years, but never could explain – someone
may have dropped a wrench into the toolbox
or made a sudden move, or merely thought
what might happen if the horse got scared, and
then he did get scared, jumped sideways and ran
down the fence line, leaving chunks of his throat
skin and hair on every barb for ten feet
before he pulled free and ran a short way
into the field, stopped and planted his hoofs
wide apart like a sawhorse, hung his head
down as if to watch his blood running out,
almost as if he were about to speak
to them, who almost thought he could regret
that he no longer had the strength to stand,
then shuddered to his knees, fell on his side,
and gave up breathing while the dripping wire
hummed like a bowstring in the splintered air.
“Ars Poetica”
by Archibald MacLeish, 1952
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,
As old medallions to the thumb,
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,
Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,
Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.
A poem should be equal to:
Not true.
For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.
For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea A poem should not mean
But be.
“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”
By Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
* from “The People, Yes”
By Carl Sandburg, 1936
In the folded and quiet yesterdays
Put down in the book of the past
Is a scrawl of scrawny thumbs
And a smudge of clutching fingers
And the breath of hanged men,
Of thieves and vagabonds,
Of killers saying welcome as an ax fell,
Of traitors cut in four pieces
And their bowels thrust over their faces
According to the ancient Anglo-Saxon
Formula for the crime of treason,
Of persons covered with human filth
In due exaction of a penalty,
Of ears clipped, noses slit, fingers chopped
For the identification of vagrants,
Of loiterers and wanderers seared
“with a hot iron in the breast the mark V,”
Of violence as a motive lying deep
As the weather changes of the sea,
Of gang wars, tong wars, civil tumults,
Industrial strife, international mass murders,
Of agitators outlawed to live on thistles,
Of thongs for holding plainspoken men,
Of thought and speech being held a crime,
And a woman burned for saying,
“I listen to my Voices and obey them,”
And a thinker locked into stone and iron
For saying, “The earth moves,”
And the pity of men learning by shocks,
By pain and practice,
By plunges and struggles in a bitter pool.
In the folded and quiet yesterdays
how many times has it happened?
The leaders of the people estimated as to price
And bought with bribes signed and delivered
Or waylaid and shot or meshed by perjurers
Or hunted and sent into hiding
Or taken and paraded in garments of dung,
Fire applied to their footsoles:
“Now will you talk?”
Their mouths basted with ruber hose:
“Now will you talk?”
Thrown into solitary, fed on slops, hung by thumbs,
Till the mention of that uprising is casual, so-so,
As though the next revolt breeds somewhere
In the bowels of that mystic behemoth, the people.
“And when it comes again,” say watchers, “we are ready.”
How many times
in the folded and quiet yesterdays
has it happened?
“You may burn my flesh and bones
and throw the ashes to the four winds.”
smiled one of them,
“Yet my voice shall linger on
and in the years to come
the young shall ask what was the idea
for which you gave me death
and what was I saying
that I must die for what I said?”
* “Grass”
by Carl Sandburg, 1918
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
* “Water”
by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882
The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.
* “O Captain! My Captain!”
by Walt Whitman, 1865
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
The arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead
* “Home Burial”
by Robert Frost, 1914
He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: ‘What is it you see
From up there always—for I want to know.’
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
He said to gain time: ‘What is it you see,’
Mounting until she cowered under him.
‘I will find out now—you must tell me, dear.’
She, in her place, refused him any help
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see,
Blind creature; and awhile he didn’t see.
But at last he murmured, ‘Oh,’ and again, ‘Oh.’
‘What is it—what?’ she said.
‘Just that I see.’
‘You don’t,’ she challenged. ‘Tell me what it is.’
‘The wonder is I didn’t see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it—that’s the reason.
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill. We haven’t to mind those.
But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child’s mound—’
‘Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,’ she cried.
She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs;
And turned on him with such a daunting look,
He said twice over before he knew himself:
‘Can’t a man speak of his own child he’s lost?’
‘Not you! Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it!
I must get out of here. I must get air.
I don’t know rightly whether any man can.’
‘Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time.
Listen to me. I won’t come down the stairs.’
He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
‘There’s something I should like to ask you, dear.’
‘You don’t know how to ask it.’
‘Help me, then.’
Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.
‘My words are nearly always an offense.
I don’t know how to speak of anything
So as to please you. But I might be taught
I should suppose. I can’t say I see how.
A man must partly give up being a man
With women-folk. We could have some arrangement
By which I’d bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you’re a-mind to name.
Though I don’t like such things ’twixt those that love.
Two that don’t love can’t live together without them.
But two that do can’t live together with them.’
She moved the latch a little. ‘Don’t—don’t go.
Don’t carry it to someone else this time.
Tell me about it if it’s something human.
Let me into your grief. I’m not so much
Unlike other folks as your standing there
Apart would make me out. Give me my chance.
I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
What was it brought you up to think it the thing
To take your mother-loss of a first child
So inconsolably—in the face of love.
You’d think his memory might be satisfied—’
‘There you go sneering now!’
‘I’m not, I’m not!
You make me angry. I’ll come down to you.
God, what a woman! And it’s come to this,
A man can’t speak of his own child that’s dead.’
‘You can’t because you don't know how to speak.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand—how could you?—his little grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
I thought, Who is that man? I didn’t know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don’t know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby’s grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
You had stood the spade up against the wall
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.’
‘I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed.
I’m cursed. God, if I don’t believe I’m cursed.’
‘I can repeat the very words you were saying:
“Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man can build.”
Think of it, talk like that at such a time!
What had how long it takes a birch to rot
To do with what was in the darkened parlor?
You couldn’t care! The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretense of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so
If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!’
‘There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won’t go now. You’re crying. Close the door.
The heart’s gone out of it: why keep it up.
Amy! There’s someone coming down the road!’
‘You—oh, you think the talk is all. I must go—
Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you—’
‘If—you—do!’ She was opening the door wider.
‘Where do you mean to go? First tell me that.
I’ll follow and bring you back by force. I will!—’
* “I Am the Autumnal Sun”
by Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862
Sometimes a mortal feels in himself Nature
-- not his Father but his Mother stirs
within him, and he becomes immortal with her
immortality. From time to time she claims
kindredship with us, and some globule
from her veins steals up into our own.
I am the autumnal sun,
With autumn gales my race is run;
When will the hazel put forth its flowers,
Or the grape ripen under my bowers?
When will the harvest or the hunter's moon
Turn my midnight into mid-noon?
I am all sere and yellow,
And to my core mellow.
The mast is dropping within my woods,
The winter is lurking within my moods,
And the rustling of the withered leaf
Is the constant music of my grief...
* “Crumbling Is Not An Instant’s Act”
by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886
Crumbling is not an instant's Act
A fundamental pause
Dilapidation's processes
Are organized Decays —
'Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis
An Elemental Rust —
Ruin is formal — Devil's work
Consecutive and slow —
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping — is Crashe's law —
* “Iron”
by Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967
Long, steel guns,
Pointed from the war ships
In the name of the war god.
Straight, shining, polished guns,
Clambered over with jackies in white blouses,
Glory of tan faces, tousled hair, white teeth,
Laughing lithe jackies in white blouses,
Sitting on the guns singing war songs, war chanties.
Broad, iron shovels,
Scooping out oblong vaults,
Loosening turf and leveling sod.
I ask you
To witness-The shovel is brother to the gun.
“The Portrait”
by Stanley Kunitz, 1905-2006
My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.
“Retired Ballerinas, Central Park West”
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1981
Retired ballerinas on winter afternoons
walking their dogs
in Central Park West
(or their cats on leashes—
the cats themselves old highwire artists)
The ballerinas
leap and pirouette
through Columbus Circle
while winos on park benches
(laid back like drunken Goudonovs)
hear the taxis trumpet together
like horsemen of the apocalypse
in the dusk of the gods
It is the final witching hour
when swains are full of swan songs
And all return through the dark dusk
to their bright cells
in glass highrises
or sit down to oval cigarettes and cakes
in the Russian Tea Room
or climb four flights to back rooms
in Westside brownstones
where faded playbill photos
fall peeling from their frames
like last year’s autumn leaves
* “Ozymandias”
By Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
By Louise Glück, 1992
This is how you live when you have a cold heart.
As I do: in shadows, trailing over cool rock,
under the great maple trees.
The sun hardly touches me.
Sometimes I see it in early spring, rising very far away.
Then leaves grow over it, completely hiding it. I feel it
glinting through the leaves, erratic,
like someone hitting the side of a glass with a metal spoon.
Living things don’t all require
light in the same degree. Some of us
make our own light: a silver leaf
like a path no one can use, a shallow
lake of silver in the darkness under the great maples.
But you know this already.
You and the others who think
you live for truth and, by extension, love
all that is cold.
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