The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, a Fairfax County Public Schools Librarian and former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.
“O Captain! My Captain!” Page with Whitman’s handwritten corrections, 1888.
Like writers of fiction and non-fiction, poets use their work as a forum for social commentary. Often this commentary is directly related to historical events of their time. One example is Walt Whitman’s book of poetry Drum Taps, written to record his thoughts about the Civil War. One of Whitman’s most famous poems, “O Captain, My Captain,” is a lament on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Lesser known is his work reflecting on the death of Ulysses S. Grant.
Offer students one of Whitman’s poems. Ask them to read and reread the poem in order to answer the following:
- To what event is the poet referring?
- What specific words or phrases from the poem offer evidence of this connection?
- What is the tone of the poem as it relates to the historical event? Identify specific words or phrases to support your answer.
While Whitman is a prolific example of a poet interacting with history through his work, students may be interested in poems about events closer to their own lifetimes. This collection of poems reacting to September 11th is a good place to start. These poems address an event it is likely they have heard about from family or friends or learned about in school. Many of the poems were written within a year of the events, and the page includes works by both established and emerging poets.
Extend this experience by asking students to discover current examples of poetry written in reaction to historic events to share in small groups or with the class. Students may also be interested in writing their own poems.
What poems might you use to connect poetry and history?
Poetry publishers, this one’s for you: The Library of Congress is now accepting nominations for the 2016 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, so start making picks and stuffing envelopes! The $10,000 prize, first given to James Merrill in 1990, is presented biennially to an American poet for the most distinguished book of poetry […]
Greetings, neonis! We’re thrilled to announce that Chapter Two of “The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon” is now online for your reading and listening pleasure and participation. In the month following Catalina’s debut, submissions from second and third grade librarians and students across the country flooded our inbox and senses, continuing Catalina’s adventures in winding, […]
The following post is part of our monthly series, “Literary Treasures,” which champions the Library’s literary programming by highlighting audio and video recordings drawn from the Library’s extensive online collections, including the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. By showcasing the works and thoughts of some of the greatest poets and writers from the past 75 […]
The following is a guest post by Catalina Gómez, reference librarian in the Library’s Hispanic Division. It’s extremely gratifying to learn that the public is taking advantage of and using the cultural treasures that we work hard to make available digitally here at the Library of Congress. Making a unique photo or a rare recording […]
The following cross-post was written by Liah Caravalho, program specialist in the Law Library’s Office of Legislative and External Relations. It originally appeared on the In Custodia Legis blog. What is the relationship between law and literature? The Law Library of Congress and the Poetry and Literature Center recently explored that question during an evening event […]