Activity 3. Close Analysis of Poetic Form and Content

Poetic Devices

  • Hand out the Poetic Devices Worksheet. Work with students to define the literary terms, and ask students to take notes in the definitions section of the worksheet. Norton's LitWeb Glossary, available via links from the EDSITEment reviewed American Academy of Poets, has some useful, brief definitions.
  • Assign the following two poems for students to read for the next class period, and ask students to find examples of each poetic device from the assigned poems as they are reading the poems on their own time. Point out to students that they should consider as well the effects a poem's lack of certain devices has on the poem at large (e.g., the lack of meter, rhyme, etc.) Mention to students that they should be prepared to discuss the poems during the next class period.
  • Devote the second class period to close analysis of the selected WWI poems. Start by reading out loud Edgar Guest's "The Things That Make a Soldier Great" (1917). You should read the poem out loud, and then have a student volunteer read the poem again. Use the following questions to generate a class discussion:
    • Meter: You can use this poem to give a basic overview of how a poem's meter fundamentally is tied to the poem's syllable count per line. Ask students if they noticed a consistent syllabic pattern. Count the number of syllables with students, and then define meter as the number of stressed beats per line. There is no need to go into an advanced lesson on meter and scansion; instead, point out how Guest's lines have a consistent pattern of "beats." Ask students to notice how the consistent beat of Guest's poem evokes the consistent beat of marching soldiers, thereby adding to the poems patriotic call for soldiers to join the fight. For an extended lesson on meter, refer to the EDSITEment lesson "Listening to Poetry: Sounds of the Sonnet." You can note that this poem is a ballad (printed with long ballad lines of iambic heptameter), a form that is meant to sound song-like.
    • Rhyme: Use this poem to discuss rhyme. Ask students the following questions:
      • As you were listening to the poem, did you hear the rhyme scheme?
      • How would you describe this rhyming? (Song-like or "sing-songy")?
      • Where have you heard this type of rhyming? (Note that children's songs, or nursery rhymes, often are in short ballad form).
      • What emotional response does this poem's rhyme scheme elicit? How do the meter and rhyme scheme contribute to the poem's mood?
      • Write the first two lines of the poem on a whiteboard or chalkboard as follows:
        • The things that make a soldier great and send him out to die,
          To face the flaming cannon's mouth nor ever question why,
      • Now compare the poem as written above to "Mary Had a Little Lamb": Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow
        and everywhere that Mary went The lamb was sure to go
    • Tone and Images: Building on the questions above, be sure to elaborate on the poet's tone. Ask students the following questions:
      • How would you describe the poet's mood and/or the emotions the poem evokes?
      • What specific images contribute to the poet's tone (e.g., lilacs, tulips, children, flag, home, garden)? Why or how do these images affect the tone at large?
  • Note that "[The established poet] Robert Graves criticised [Poet Wilfred] Owen for not abiding by the rules of metre, and it is true that "Disabled" seems loosely organised with its apparently arbitrary irregularities of stanza, metre and rhyme. Perhaps Owen felt, not unreasonably, that a poet was entitled to break the rules as long as he knew them first" [Noted by Literary Critic Kenneth Simcox, 2001]. Keeping Owen's use of meter in mind, read out loud Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" (1917). Have students read the poem aloud, or listen to an actor read the poem at Encarta, available through the EDSITEment reviewed website Internet Public Library. Have students note and compare the titles of these poems; "Dulce et Decorum Est" roughly translates as "It is sweet and proper to die for one's country."
  • Lead another class discussion about this poem based on the following questions:
    • Meter/Rhyme:
      • Ask students if they hear a clear meter and rhyme scheme when this poem is read aloud? [Mention how the lack of consistent beats detracts from the rhyme scheme that is actually present in the poem.] Ask students to review the first stanza of Owen's poem, and compare it to the first stanza of "The Things That Make a Soldier Great."
        • Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed,
          coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
          Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
          And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
          Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
          But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
          Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired,
          outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
        • The things that make a soldier great and send him out to die,
          To face the flaming cannon's mouth nor ever question why,
          Are lilacs by a little porch, the row of tulips red,
          The peonies and pansies, too, the old petunia bed,
          The grass plot where his children play, the roses on the wall:
          'Tis these that make a soldier great. He's fighting for them all.
      • Does this poem sound song-like as "The Things That Make a Soldier Great"? Why not? [Note that the heavy ballad beats are not present in this poem]. What is the mood/tone of this poem? Discuss how this lack of clearly organized beats changes the tone of the poem; it is far from "sing-songy."
    • Alliteration, Consonance, Assonance: Ask students to define alliteration (repetition of initial sounds), consonance (repetition of consonant sounds initially and/or within a word), and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds initially and/or within a word). Focus of the first four lines of Owen's poem: Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
      Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
      Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
      And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
      • Discuss, for example, the hard "c" consonance of within the first few lines of "Dulce" (sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing, like, cursed, backs). Ask students what this consonance brings to mind (i.e., the sound of coughing itself):
      • As an example of assonance, point to the "u" sounds within the first few lines (including the ending of lines 2 and
      • Explain to students that this case of assonance, the "u" sounds slow down and therefore draw out the lines. Again form marries content as the soldiers "trudge" through "sludge."
    • Pacing: Turn to the lines "Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!-An ecstasy of fumbling," to draw attention to the changed pace of the poem. Ask students what effect the use of one syllable words has on the poem's pace.
    • Additional Analysis: Break students into small groups, and have each group discuss the last two stanzas of the poem for 10 minutes. Regroup for full class discussion of the remainder of the poem.
Last modified: Thursday, 14 June 2012, 4:20 PM