Note: Teaching classical poetry rather than other forms of poetry or modern literature makes a difference. Inherent in classical poetry is a respect for tradition, for order, for discipline, and for the uplifting heritage of our shared human civilization. The good values that are inherently fostered will improve classroom behavior as well as appreciation and respect for English literature and the English language in general. 

 

Level: Grades 11-12

Duration: 2-3 weeks

Objective: To teach students to understand and appreciate some of the greatest works in English literature. Students will be able to understand, appreciate, analyze, and recite some British Romantic period poetry by the end.

Materials: To download a Word file of the poems click here.

Resources: If desired, read additional background materials on Wordsworth and his poetry, Shelley (who, despite modern labeling, was not an atheist) and his poetry, and Keats and his poetry.

 

Day 1: Wordsworth’s “Daffodils,” the British Romantic Period in General, the Meaning of the Poem, and the Techniques of the Poem

1.1 Ask students to think of a moment when they felt the beauty of nature. It could be any time walking outside, looking out a window, or even viewing a movie or a documentary about nature. After a minute or two, ask students to share these moments with the class or with each other in partners and then with the class.

1.2. Begin your presentation with William Wordsworth’s name on the board (you may need to explain that Romantic does not mean hearts, dating, and marriage kind of romance). Lecture: “William Wordsworth was a famous poet of the British Romantic Period. His last name should be easy to remember, his Words were worth a lot. He served as Britain’s Poet Laurette for many years (which is something like a national mascot and national monument rolled into one). Like you, Wordsworth had a beautiful moment with nature. His came one day while he was walking around Britain’s Lake District. He happened upon a huge field of daffodils along a lake and he wrote this poem about it.”

1.3. Teacher recites the poem from memory (or uses a copy in hand) to students adding ample hand gestures and facial expressions. Immediately after saying “gay” you may add “meaning happy.” For the last stanza, it is suggested that you sit in a desk or chair and put your feet up and your hands behind your head to express “For oft, when on my couch I lie.”

1.4. Hand out the British Romantic Period Worksheet. Lecture: “For poetry, it is good to read it many times, over and over again.” Have the class read it aloud now. They can each take one line and move down row by row (24 lines in the poem), or they can read it to each other in partners.

1.5. Lecture: “What does it all mean? What makes Romantic poetry Romantic poetry? In the 19th century / 1800s, what was happening across Europe at this time? It started in England and spread from there, changing people’s way of life? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] Right, the Industrial Revolution. [Note: STUDENTS SHOULD BE TAKING NOTES ON THE WORKSHEET OR ELSEWHERE] Back then the cities, especially in Wordsworth’s England were being populated by big factories that were spewing huge amounts of black smoke from the burning of coal. Children were leaving farms and working in new industrial settings at clothing (textile) factories, food factories, locomotive factories, and many other kinds of factories. Some artists and scholars, writers and thinkers, naturally turned away from the cities and the reason and rationality (what we call today “science”) that had brought the awful industrialization. They wanted to escape a life of industrialization and return to the beauty of nature, which holds everything one might need, all of the building blocks for some degree of food, shelter, entertainment, and comfort (indeed, the Amish people put this into real practice even today). The British Romantic Period poets voiced the inspiration for this general aversion to cities and science. Thus, there are two dichotomies that characterize British Romantic Period poetry. (Note: A dichotomy is a system of division in which things are interpreted as being part of one of two opposed groups. Like Yin and Yang or like the dichotomy between the Republicans and Democrats in U.S. politics. You can also call something a ‘false dichotomy’ if you think it is misleading.) On the one hand there is an emphasis on the beauty of nature and power of nature. But what is the down side of that? There is a loneliness in turning away from the cities where most people are. Where do we see both of these in Wordsworth’s poem? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] Also, the Romantics were not just turning away from cities, they were turning away from the reason, rationality, science, and industrialization that had taken over there and ruined them. The good side of this is a return to creativity and imagination. Where do we see this in the poem? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] What is the downside to this? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] Leaving behind reason and rationality can be dangerous to a certain extent and lead to being overly emotional and of course irrational. These can obviously be problematic on their own. Wordsworth does a good job of not being affected by this second dichotomy too much.

1.6. Lecture: “Talking about ideas is not enough. With great poetry there is an emphasis on discipline and precision in the form. Every word is carefully placed. Because of meter (what we might call rhythm) in the poem, if you take one word out, the whole thing falls apart. In terms of form, how does the poem work? What does Wordsworth use? How many stanzas? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] 4. How many syllables per line approximately? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] Approximately 8. [If students are already familiar with classical poetry, you could discuss the poem’s iambic tetrameter here]. What is the rhyme pattern, does each line just rhyme with the next? ABABCC. What is the running metaphor here that appears throughout? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] It is dance and performing arts. Circle all of the places you see these kinds of references throughout [there are at least five]. What is Wordsworth saying then about dance or the performing arts? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] He is suggesting that nature has its own kind of performing arts and that you don’t need to go to the city to see it. He is not necessarily saying nature’s performance is better or you don’t need to see arts in the city but that nature is good in its own right and has the power to bring him happiness when he is possibly in the industrialized city, lying on his couch at home. It is the magical power and beauty of nature he is talking about. He is also personifying the daffodils by saying they dance. Treating non-human beings as human beings is a typical poetic perspective but also profound in that it assumes that everything is living and thinking, which is a spiritual belief that some religions and many people still hold today.”

 

Day 2: “Ozymandias,” “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

2.0. Review: Begin with having the class read “Daffodils” aloud together. You may alternate stanzas. Have the boys read the first stanza and the girls read the second.

2.1. Now cover “Ozymandias.” Give some history on the subject of the poem. The evil leader is the same Pharaoh who refused to free the enslaved Jews in Egypt and chased after them when they left. The Jews were building some of the great works of ancient Egypt. The teacher should carefully read “Ozymandias” to students, checking for understanding as he or she goes. Student should then read it aloud. Shelley uses a sonnet form (14 lines, iambic pentameter or 10 syllables per line if students are not yet familiar with real meter) as well as alliteration. Students may use the blank space below the poem on the worksheet for drawing an illustration to go with it and share the illustration with the class.

2.2. You can ask students how the Romantic Period dichotomies apply to this poem (creativity in that Shelley did not actually travel to Egypt; there was a real artifact relating to the Pharaoh that just arrived at the British Museum and probably inspired the poem). Lecture: “In this poem we run into a common theme throughout poetry, throughout cultures, throughout human arts of any kind in fact, which is the mutability of life. Basically, things don’t last. Empire and dynasties rise and inevitably fall. People and plants grow and of course will die. This poem is a spectacular illustration of this theme. The colossal pyramids, the exquisite art, the spectacular hieroglyphics… the civilizations that created these no longer exist.”

2.3. For “Ode on a Grecian Urn” you would ideally bring a fancy vase to class and pretend it is the urn. Lecture: “The language in this poem is difficult and long, but what is happening is simpler than the other two poems. Keats is admiring this incredible ancient Greek vase that is covered in pictures. That’s it! You can see that the poets himself actually drew it here on the worksheet. This is an ode. What is an ode? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] Right, so he is just praising the vase and saying how wonderful, how beautiful it is. For him, like Wordsworth and the daffodils, the images on the vase are alive, they’re living beings. The art is real.”

2.4. Read the poem to the class, stopping after each stanza to explain as needed, and then have them read it. Then see how the Romantic dichotomies apply. [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] What about the mutability of life / things don’t last? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] Where Shelley just presented the bleak side of the mutability of life, Keats is providing an antidote. What is it? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] It is art and the beauty of art. He says that this is all you need. Science, reason, rationality, cities, industrialization, you don’t need those to be happy. This is the truth that can set you free from the mutability of life.

2.5. Students receive their recitation assignment. They must memorize some of the assigned poetry and then stand up in front of the class and recite it. They will be graded both on their memorization ability and their ability to effectively communicate to the class through verbal and body language. Students choose one of three possible memorization assignments: (A) Any three of the four “Daffodils” stanzas (students often prefer to skip the third stanza). (B) All of “Ozymandias.” (C) Any 10-line stanza from “Ode” (since the language is harder).

2.6. Students begin memorizing.

 

Day 3: Memorization, Practice Performing, Writing Activity

3.1. Introductory review: Look at Lazarus’s sonnet “New Colossus” (which is both physically and thematically on the Statue of Liberty) and compare it to “Ozymandias.” How do the two compare? [STUDENTS MAY RESPOND] Both feature statues that seem to speak. The ancient Colossus statue and the “ancient land, storied pomp” which Lazarus compares to the Statue of Liberty may be viewed as equivalent to the Ozymandias statue. America is a land with a different kind of leadership and different kind of purpose, not “conquering” but helping people and giving them access to a “golden door,” however you might interpret that. The “mild eyes” and “silent lips” of Lady Liberty contrast with the “wrinkled lip” and “sneer of cold command” of Ozymandias. We have a benevolent ruler versus an evil tyrant.

3.2. Continue memorizing.

3.3. Talk about aspects of performance. Speaking slowly, clearly, and loudly are crucial. Those are the basics and doing a good job with them will lead to a good grade (B grade). Adding an appropriate amount of emotion and hand gestures adds to the effect and helps communicate. It creates an exceptional experience for the audience. Students may be creative too and incorporate dance, drawing, or group performance.

3.4. For an activity grade, Student will have to write in prose a piece that mirrors the content of one of the poems. It should be the one that they are memorizing. Students are graded on the effectiveness of their creative writing on a scale of 1 to 10:

3.4.1. If “Daffodils” then they should pick a real activity they have engaged in or something they encountered, in nature or not, and use a metaphor to describe this. The two things should be very different such as daffodils and dancing in a performance.

3.4.2. If “Ozymandias” then they should imagine a real work of art such as a statue or a painting and describing it so that it tells a story. It can even come to life and talk.

3.4.3. If “Ode on a Grecian Urn” then they should pick an object and describe it in such a way that it tells a story. It can even come to life and talk.

3.4.4. Students may of course suggest their own idea within this general framework.

 

Day 4: Finish Writing Activity, Finish Practice, and Begin Performance

4.1. Finish writing activity if needed.

4.2. Students ideally will have free space to practice somewhere, in the hall or in an empty classroom.

4.3. Performances begin. Students will be marked down for making distracting noises during others’ performances and for not clapping (they can clap quietly for normal performances and louder for especially good ones).

 

Day 5: Performance and Test Study

5.1. Students’ recitations are concluded.

5.2. Students study for a test in which they will have to write out the memorized excerpt and analyze it, including describing what is happening in the poem and how it relates to the history of Romantic Period poetry. Students who want to strive for an A grade should also reflect on why this poet is still meaningful and significant today (this could potentially build on the writing activity). They may also have to analyze a surprise excerpt that they are unaware of (you may pick the poem or stanza that was least selected for memorizing).

 

Day 6: Test

 

Day 7: Poetry Writing Assignment

7.1. Students will have to write their own poems. Requirements: To receive a B grade (a good grade) students should have at least 14 lines, approximately 10 syllables per line, at least half the lines rhyming, and a Romantic-themed setting in nature, and the poem must be read to the class (unread poems automatically reduced by one grade level; B becomes C for example). Give students exemplary poems written by high school students like themselves. Or other classical poetry on topics that they might find more interesting. The ideal is to collect good student poetry each year to use as examples for future years. Give students new poems each day. Give them two to three days to finish their poems and then present them (in this case they are not judged on presenting abilities.)

High School Poets’ poetry can be found here.

Some humorous sonnets, including “Ozymandias for Windows,” can be found here.

Humorous poetry in general can be found here.

Poetry on human rights can be found here.

 

Day X: Tintern Abbey

If students are at an AP or honors level, you may integrate this assignment on Wordsworth’s famous “Tintern Abbey.” For the Word file click here.

 

© Evan Mantyk. Permission granted for free, non-commercial use by teachers. If you find the lesson plan useful, there is a suggested donation of $5 upon using it. 


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4 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    As I look back to my high school past (c. 1965) I recall that my teachers were pretty much in full accord with what you’ve laid out here. I never got to thank them, but it’s entirely possible that their influence was instrumental in steering me to my current position in the formal beehive of contemporary poetic buzz. If this program can encourage, motivate, or inspire even a single voice, then it will have been worth it. Ah, if Mrs. Keller could see me now she might have thought she’d died and gone to heaven, which is probably what has already happened anyway.

    Reply
  2. Bruce Dale Wise

    Mr. Mantyk’s lesson plans show that he strives for a high standard, which is refreshing to find in the New Millennium. The works he uses are similar to works I once used.

    In the Senior British Literature and World Literature class I taught, I started the Romantic period exactly at the New Year.

    Before Christmas Vacation segue from Gray’s “Elegy” and read a prose introduction on the historical events of the Romantic period, echoing Junior year thoughts on American Romantic Literature, and remembering Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas”.

    Day One of the New Year: Listen to Auld Lang Syne, and freewrite 100+ words on thoughts about the old year. Listen to Burns’ “To a Mouse” and Blake’s “The Tyger”. Oral student observations on each work were required as part of an overall notebook grade. Students like to talk.

    Day Two: Listen to Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”, “The World Is Too Much With Us”, and “Westminster Bridge”, and respond, with corresponding freewrite 100+ words.

    Day Three: Listen to Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, usually takes entire period.

    Day Four: Listen to excerpts of Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” and “Don Juan” and Shelley’s “Ozymandias” with student observations and freewrite on corresponding theme.

    Day Five: Listen to Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. I had the students read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s comments on the latter.

    Day Six: Listen to a Beethoven Symphony excerpt, usually Fifth, First Movement: Freewrite 100+ words. Then review for tomorrow, and students take notes for material that will be on the Romantic Quiz.

    Day Seven: Romantic period quiz. Freewrite on corresponding theme.

    Though students over the years read Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” or Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” next, at the end of my career I usually immediately transitioned from the Romantics to the Victorian poets and prose writers. George Eliot’s (Mary Anne Evans) “Silas Marner” then became the novel I usually taught.

    Day Eight: Off to the Victorians. Listen to Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” and “Ulysses”, etc.

    I agree with Mr. Mantyk’s seven days on the Romantics, as there are so many other writers and periods when one has only about 175 days in the school year. I had to pace myself and the students, so that we could get to brief Italian, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese literature samples and overviews by graduation. Foreign exchange students would alter what we might touch upon. I remember looking at Australian, Canadian, Czech and Finnish literatures, as well as others. There was always extra credit in my classes. Over the years students memorized for double extra credit poems in Russian, Spanish, Japanese and German.

    I thank Mr. Mantyk for the memories his lessons evoked, and wish him many happy years in teaching ahead.

    Reply
  3. Ripon

    I want be with you people. I try to write poems. But, I realize now the criticisms or complements are so important.

    Reply

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