Comparison Of 10 Poems

Read Complete Research Material

Comparison of 10 Poems

Some poems you love, and some you love to teach. What's the difference? The teachable ones do half the work for you: the questions they raise and the pleasures they offer show that close reading is not, despite its chilly reputation, academia's way of “beating it [the poem] with a hose / to find out what it really means” (Billy Collins, “Introduction to Poetry”). Quite the contrary: close reading is courtship, a passionate, delicate way to find out what makes this particular poem worth a second date (that is, writing a paper about) or maybe worth spending the rest of your life with (that is, memorizing).

Here are ten poems that have the moves my students want to know better, with a couple of tips on how to catch their eyes across the dance floor.

1. “To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet

Like most interesting people, the characters you meet in poems rarely say the same thing twice. When they seem to, listen harder: that's a lesson Anne Bradstreet's “To My Dear and Loving Husband” teaches my most sceptical students. Ask them to slow down and take it sentence by sentence. “If ever two were one, then surely we,” she sighs at the start, a line so satisfied, it just ends. (No other line in the poem is a complete sentence.) Your students may know couples like that. Bradstreet, though, promptly leaves this Smug Married stasis behind. She splits the couple into their public roles of “man” and “wife,” conjures some girlfriends to brag to (“Compare with me, ye women, if you can”), and keeps the poem in motion through a series of poised, propulsive asymmetries. My favourite comes in an off-rhyme halfway through: “My love is such that rivers cannot quench, / Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense.” Students quickly notice the off-rhyme; to follow up, ask them what's equally “off” about the couplet's logic. (You quench a fire, or a thirst, but you can't “recompense,” “repay,” or even “reward” one.) That's not a flaw but a flash of desire, half-hidden by decorum. Students often think that the Puritans were puritanical about sex, but Bradstreet's poems about marriage give the lie to that assumption. Challenge the sceptics in your class to read her “Letter to Her Husband, Absent Upon Public Employment,” or use it in a follow-up assignment. As the speaker tries to persuade her husband to come home, when and how does she appeal to his head, his heart, and his “heat”? When and how does she change her mind and reconcile herself to his absence? Read either of these poems too quickly, and you'll miss their wit, their passion, and their artistry—the more you respect them, the more you'll enjoy them, too.


2. “Wild nights!—wild nights!” by Emily Dickinson

No one could miss the desire in this one! Its craft, though, and its wisdom take time to tease out. Try splitting your students into groups, and have each track a different element in the ...
Related Ads