Lesson Plans: The Language of Poetry

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     Grades: 12 > College Level

Objective — The student will:

  • demonstrate a higher level of thinking in writing a poem that delivers a message of wisdom and is metaphorical in meaning. 

  • gain a better understanding of metaphors and their use in poetry as well as the meaning and use of concrete and abstract words and imagery.

Hint: Students need to understanding the meaning of the word "metaphor." Students should review the definitions of "concrete," "abstract," and "general" as applicable to writing usages.  Students also need to review and understand the meaning of the word "epigram."

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The Language of Poetry

Write a poem which satisfies all of the following criteria: 

  1. Pick one of the phrases below and write a poem in which:
       a) the phrase you've picked is the poem's title
       b) the phrase you've picked occurs at least once in the body of the poem.

  2. The poem should not be end-rhymed, but it should observe the basic conventions of free-verse prosody.

  3. The poem should be less than 30 lines in length.

  4. In addition to using the phrase you've selected, the poem should try to coin at least one truly memorable epigrammatical (clever remark / witticism) statement. A statement which is:

     a) rich in metaphorical meaning
     b) has the ring" of wisdom yet is fresh, not hackneyed
     c) is borderline abstract (a small amount of a generalization) yet has a concrete “feel" to it.

  A good example of such a statement would be Stevens's line:
          "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream,"

     or William Stafford's:
            “We live in an occupied country, misunderstood."

  1. Although the poem should be in the riddling, epigrammatical language of poetry, like the Stevens poem (see Example one below), it should have an air of authority; it should make a kind of sense yet not be easily paraphrased or interpreted. In other words, it should have poetic meaning.

(Epigrammatical --clever remarks / witty) statements)

1. The long odds in the evening

2. The heart's rust

3. Cold bacon, cold eggs, cold potatoes

4. Mr. Joy (Mr. Fear, etc.)

5. The slow kiss the spider gives the fly

6. The way the sky would like to touch the snow

7. The thief who is also the locksmith

8. At Death's picnic (funeral, party, etc.)

9. At the starling's wild parties

10. In Death's library

11. What Death has for breakfast

12. The silent storm inside my arms

13. The patient ambushes of the shadows

14. The habits of the clouds (stones, grass, etc.)
15. The left-handed daydreams of the missing ski shoes, hat, etc.)

16. What the dead birds listen for

17. What the dust seems to be saying

18. The blameless life, complete in its white package

19. The heart's hot climate

20. The franchise of the night (the moon, autumn, etc.)21. The concealed weapon in a smile

22. The secret that wears an old suit

23. What Death (or Time or Boredom, etc.) wears

24. The erratic weather reports of the heart

25. The metaphysics of cockroaches and kings

26. The moon's white shares we (I, you, etc.) own

27. Dragging the sea for your shadow

28. Bribing the river

29. On the right side of the sun

30. Why (how) the moon divorced the earth (the sun), (the ocean divorced the land, the sky divorced the ground, etc.




The Emperor of Ice-Cream


Call the roller of big cigars,

The muscular one, and bid him whip

In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.

Let the wenches dawdle in such dress

As they are used to wear, and let the boys

Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.

Let be be finale of seem.

The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


Take from the dresser of deal,

Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet

On which she embroidered fantails once

And spread it so as to cover her face.

If her horny feet protrude, they come

To show how cold she is, and dumb.

Let the lamp affix its beam.

The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


                             --Wallace Stevens







Middle Class Poem


In dreams, the news of the world

comes back, gets mixed up

with our parents and the moon.

We can't help but thrash.

Those with whom we sleep, never equally,

Roll away from us and sigh.


When we wake

the news of the world embraces us,

pulls back. Who let go first?-­-

a lover's question, the lover

who's most alone.

We purchase a little forgetfulness

at the mall. We block the entrance

to our hearts.


Come evening, the news of the world

is roaming the streets

while we bathe our children,

while we eat what's plentiful

and scarce. We know what we need

to keep out, what's always there—

painful to look at, bottomless.


                         --Stephen Dunn



Thinking for Berky


In the late night listening from bed

I have joined the ambulance or the patrol

screaming toward some drama, the kind of end

that Berky must have some day, if she isn't dead.


The wildest of all, her father and mother cruel,

farming out there beyond the old stone quarry

where high school lovers parked their lurching cars,

Berky learned to love in that dark school.


Early her face was turned away from home.

toward any hardworking place; but still her soul,

with terrible things to do, was alive, looking out

for the rescue that—surely, some day—would have to come.


Windiest nights, Berky, I have thought for you,

and no matter how lucky I've been I've touched wood.

There are things not solved in our town though tomorrow came:

there are things time passing can never make come true.


We live in an occupied country, misunderstood;

justice will take us millions of intricate moves.

Sirens will hunt down Berky, you survivors in your beds

listening through the night, so far and good.


                                                                   --William Stafford

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