This is part two of what we do for 9th grade literature. You can find part 1, which covers American short stories and essays, here. In truth, I interweave the two and go chronologically, but it seemed easier to blog about them one at a time. Scroll down for all the nitty-gritty details.
9th Grade Lit: American Poets
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I got the text of these poems from the Poetry Foundation website and got notes on each from Enotes. Many of these we did together as a family when my oldest went through the course. We also cover Emerson with essayists.
- Read “Hamatreya” and discuss Emerson’s view of land ownership. (Reading the blurb from Enotes will help the teacher know what to expect.)
- Read “The Snow-Storm.” What is this poem saying? What metaphor is being used? To what is the snow-storm compared? What is Emerson saying about art (again Enotes will help here)?
- Read “Days.” Emerson had a fairly idle life as a poet and essayist in the midst of a very busy culture. How does he reflect on this in this poem? What is he feeling about his own life? What picture does the poem give?
- Read “Concord Hymn.” We actually had seen this poem recently on the monument at Old North Bridge in Concord where it is inscribed. Discuss the events behind the poem (note that the poem itself was written long afterward). What does the poem say about the purpose of the “votive stone”?
- Read “The Rhodora.” What is Emerson saying the purpose of beauty is?
- Read “The Humble Bee.” How does Emerson use sound and form in this poem? How does he compare the bee to humans? Which one has the preferable life?
- Read “Forbearance.” What is forbearance? Look it up in the dictionary and write out a definition. What things does Emerson think show forbearance? How would he define it?
- Read “Each and All.” What point is Emerson trying to make? (Hint: reread the 9th-12th lines.) What examples does he use to support his argument?
I used a few resources for Whitman: Poetry for Young People, GradeSaver, and the Academy of American Poets. I pieced together questions for the various poems. You will also need a more complete book of Whitman’s poetry.
“Song of Myself”
I used the excerpts from the Poetry for Young People book for this one.
- Stanza 1: What do you think he means by “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”?
- Stanza 2-end: What does he see in the grass? What does it represent? The Bible says “man is grass.” Do they mean the same thing? Why or why not?
- What do you think Whitman believes about God? Man? Sin?
- Whitman called his book of poetry Leaves of Grass. Why do you think he did?
“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! my Captain!”
These poems are both about the death of Abraham Lincoln, read them together and compare and contrast.
“Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand”
Read the poem. What is this poem about? Hint: what is being carried in hand? What is he saying about writing?
Various other poems
I selected various other poems from a big book of Whitman’s work that we had checked out and had my son write paragraphs telling what he thought they meant. Among those we used were: “A Sight in camp” and “Come Up From the Fields.”
I used a number of different sources for Dickinson: the Poetry for Young People book, GradeSaver, Mr. Gunnar’s site, and the Big Read. For some of these I had my kids write out answers, others we read and discussed aloud. FYI Dickinson did not title her poems; they are named by their first lines.
- Read “I heard a fly buzz” and “Because I could not stop.” Compare the two death scenes.
- Read “Success is counted sweetest” and “I’m nobody.” Compare and contrast.
- Read “To fill a gap.” What is this poem saying? How does its form contribute to its meaning?
- Read “Tell all the truth.” What is this poem saying? How does she feel about truth?
- Read “The bat is dun.” How does she describe the bat? What can we learn from him?
- Read “A light in spring.” What is the poem saying about nature? About God?
- Read “Behind me dips – eternity.” What does she say about eternity and life and afterlife? What is the tone of the poem by the end?
- Read “They shut me up in prose” and “I dwell in possibility.” How does she portray pose? Poetry? What does the house represent in the second poem? What do these two poems have in common? How can these be read as feminist poems?
- Read “Safe in their alabaster chambers.” Think back to other Dickinson poems you have read as well. Does she write more about death or life? What is her view of death and the afterlife?
- Read “This world is not conclusion” and “I know that He exists.” It has been said that Dickinson was “not entirely orthodox in her Christian faith.” How do we see that in these poems? What are her beliefs?
“The Road Not Taken”
- Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Read “setting and background information” from the Cummings guide.
- Go through the poem again. Write a summary of each stanza.Read through Cummings’ summaries and notes.
- Which road does the title refer to?
- Write responses for study questions 1,2, 3 and 5 from Cummings.
“Fire and Ice”
- Read the poem. If reading aloud, have copies for all students so they can follow along.
- See if the students can figure out the meter of the poem and its rhyme scheme. From the Cummings guide read “meter” and “rhyme.”
- Define alliteration, anaphora, and paradox. Find examples in the poem.
- Read “Dante’s influence” from the Cummings guide. What does Frost think is worse — desire or hatred/betrayal? Do you agree?
“The Mending Wall”
- Read through the poem. What is the central theme or question of the poem? What is the neighbor’s view of walls? How is the neighbor portrayed? What are the pros and cons of walls? What does the poet/speaker think of walls? What is the verdict of the poem? Why does he help his neighbor rebuild?
- Read the poem again. Can you determine the format/meter of the poem? Read “verse format” from the Cummings guide.
- From the Cummings guide read “literary devices and imagery.” Write out definitions and examples for: anastrophe, metaphor, personification and hyperbole.
- What types of walls separate people? How are walls in the Bible symbolic?
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
- Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Find specific words n the poem that tell you about the time and place. Who are the characters? Read “Intro” from the Cummings guide.
- Go through the poem again, stanza by stanza. Summarize each one and then look at the Cummings guide notes.
- Define alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor and personification. Find examples in the poem. What is the meter of the poem? Discuss end rhyme versus internal rhyme (see Cummings guide notes).
- Why does the author like the woods? Read Cummings Guide “meaning.”
- Read the poem. Summarize it. What is the form (style) of the poem? Read “Blank verse” from Shmoop.
- Reread the poem. What is the contrast being made? List the characteristics of the boy swinging and the ice storm. What do each of these represent?
Eliot was American but renounced his US citizenship. Nonetheless, I included him among our American authors. Some of his works are long and tough. Others are quite fun.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (printable assignments here)
- From the Cummings guide read “Explanation of title” and “type of work.” Read the Dante quote, its translation and the note about it. Read the first 2 stanzas. How does he describe the setting? the mood? What do you think the 2nd stanza means? How are the women portrayed?
- Read “speaker”, “characters” and “themes” from the Cummings guide. Read stanzas 3-10. Give a brief summary of each.
- Finish reading the poem. In stanza 11, who is being alluded to? (Hint: Note the head and prophet references.) Stanza 12: Read Luke 16:19-31. Stanza 14: How is Prufrock like Hamlet? How is he different? Stanza 15 to the end: How does he end it? What are his thoughts now?
- Find examples in the poem of simile, personification, metaphor, alliteration, anaphora, and hyperbole.
“Sweeney among the Nightingales”
- Read the poem. Discuss the setting. From the Cummings guide, read about Agamemnon and his connection to the poem.
- Read the poem again and go through stanza by stanza. Note the rhyme and meter.
- Read the poem once more. Discuss its meaning.
Various shorter poems
- Read “A Song for Simeon.” If you are not familiar with it, read the biblical passage on Simeon. How does Eliot portray Simeon?
- Read “Journey of the Magi.” If you are not familiar with it, read the story fo the magi from the Bible. How does Eliot portray them?
- Read “the Hippopotamus.” What two things are being compared? Does this surprise you? How are they compared? What is the end of each? What point is Eliot trying to make?
- For fun read selections from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”
Read “in Just.”
- What is happening in this poem?
- Read it aloud. What do you notice? Which words/phrases/sounds do you like?
- What is the effect of the way the poem is laid out?
- Read Shmoop’s summary:
“What’re they good for? Well, here’s our best Shmoop expert opinion: when you read a line of poetry aloud, your eyes (and therefore your voice) tend to speed on to the end of the line. Try it and see. When you read “in Just-,” however, the spaces slow your eyes down. More importantly, they slow your voice down, as well. As you’re reading, you’re thinking, “Huh? I totally don’t know whether to pause for the spaces or not!” And even in that time that it takes to think that through, your voice slows oh-so-slightly. Kind of cool, huh?So we pause during the lines. So what? You can almost hear the time that it takes for the balloonman’s whistle to travel across the playground. The space between “whistles” and “far” mimics this time. It’s like we actually see the sound and maybe even its echo afterwards.
One more thing: did you notice what we haven’t got in this line? Punctuation.”
- Who loves spring (in general, not in the poem)? What about the ballonman? How does he fit in here? Why does he get to be part of spring? (Notice the end about his feet — what does he look like?)
- Read pp 78-80 in Liberated Imagination by Leland Ryken.
Assignment 2: “somewhere I have gladly traveled . . .”
- Read Background on cummings:
“No doubt, E. E. Cummings was a rebel. Even before he made his name as a poet, he was rubbing authority figures the wrong way. One famous story happened during World War I, when Cummings was volunteering as an ambulance driver in France. Cummings got annoyed with all the rules and started sending coded messages back home just to see if anybody would notice. They noticed, alright, and Cummings got locked up in an internment camp under suspicion that he might be a traitor and a spy. He actually wrote a novel about the whole experience called The Enormous Room. (Click here for more of the deets on Cummings’s crazy life story.)
Cummings’s wartime rabble rousing was nothing compared to what he was soon to unleash on the literary world. See, our rebel-poet was also a painter and became really inspired by Modernist art movements like Surrealism and Cubism, which exploded the rules of traditional painting. Cummings didn’t see any reason why poetry couldn’t recreate itself just as radically as the world of art was doing at the time. So he brewed up a signature style that thumbed its nose at traditional rules of poetry and took the form into new dimensions. Of course, you can’t expect to go around breaking a bunch of rules without ticking some people off. Some critics accused Cummings of being weird for weird’s sake, while others seemed to think that he just had no idea how to write a “real” poem.”
- Stanza 1: note that there is no space in “travelled,gladly” This is not a typo. Why does cummings do this?
- What is the “trip” the speaker is taking?
- Stanza 2: Think about closing and opening and eyes in this poem. What do you notice? What is weird? What do you think it all means?
- Notice that the one capitalized word is “Spring.” What is the effect of this?
- Stanza 3: Notice the smooshed words again “beautifully,suddenly” What has changed in this stanza?
- Stanza 4: What words are smooshed in this stanza? What is different this time? What do you think that means?(Hint: how are colons supposed to be used?)
- What greater meaning can you get from this poem? How do you think the speaker would define love? Why does he love this woman? How do you think she feels about him?
- Do you see any progression in the poem?
- Overall, do you think the poem presents a positive view of death, or is it more doom and gloom? Why do you think so?
- Which would you say the speaker values more: the rewards of the afterlife, or the rewards of life itself? What parts of the poem give you your ideas?
- Do you think that the speaker’s father would agree with his son’s attitude toward death? Why or why not?