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Lesson 6: Poetry of the Greatest

Lesson 6 Review

Directions: Follow the directions in each Part below to complete the assignment.

Reminder: All answers must be paraphrased (in your own words) and not copy/pasted from the internet. Cite any sources or websites that you used in researching your work. Be sure your paragraph is written in Academic English. If needed, refer to the section on Academic English in Orientation.

Part A: Death of the Hired Man by Robert Frost

Directions: Read the poem

Death of The Hired Man

by Robert Frost.

The Death of The Hired Man consists of a dialogue between Warren, a farmer, and his wife Mary. Silas, their old hired man, has returned, sick, after a long absence. He stays with them during the hard winters but leaves for other farms with better wages in haying time. They feel sympathy but do not know what to do. They want to send him to his wealthy brother but know that Silas doesn’t want to go there. Social attitudes emerge as the couple remembers how Silas fought with a college boy about book learning and life experience. Warren is antagonistic to Silas whom he regards as an economic liability. Mary is more emotional and begs Warren to give him a home one more time. Meanwhile, Silas dies in the next room.

Respond to the following questions:

1. What is the story of the poem?

2. What are the feelings portrayed in the poem by each character? Silas, warren, Mary.

3. What are the social issues discussed in the poem? Are they still relevant today? e.g. Homelessness, education, who has the obligation to family or society?

Part B: Sonnets

Traditionally, the sonnet is a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter, employing one of several rhyme schemes, and adhering to a tightly structured thematic organization. The name is taken from the Italian sonetto, which means “a little sound or song.” There are many different types of sonnets. Shakespearean sonnets are written in iambic pentameter, which means 14 lines containing 10 syllables in each line. The rhyming sequence is shown with letters:

‘a’ rhymes with ‘a’

‘b’ rhymes with ‘b’

and so on. Use the following examples to complete this assignment.

Directions: Read the following sonnets and follow the directions to write your own sonnet.

Sonnet 29: When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes

When, in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

By William Shakespeare

Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.

Sonnet Instructions: Write a sonnet on a topic of your choice, using the rules below.

1. Write exactly fourteen lines with a total of 10 syllables each.

2. In the first twelve lines, describe a problem, introduce an issue, or pose a question.

3. In the last two lines, resolve the problem, make general comments or conclusions, or answer the questions.

4. Follow the pattern for end rhymes.

1. a ___________________

2. b ___________________

3. a ___________________

4. b ___________________

5. c ___________________

6. d ___________________

7. c ___________________

8. d ___________________

9. e ___________________

10. f ___________________

11. e ___________________

12. f ___________________

13. g ___________________

14. g ___________________

Part C: Poems of Personal Experience

Directions: Write your own poem of experience.

To begin, read at least three poems from one of the following poets: Etheridge Knight, Ntozake Shange, Langston Hughes S.

Writing the poem.

1. Decide whether to use the first person “I” or the third person, “he” or “she” or some other way to observe and reflect on some experience of family, or friend, or stranger.

2. Recall memories or feelings or images which are the strongest perhaps evoked by the reading of the poems perhaps entirely personal to come to mind. Write them down. Write at least four of the strongest thoughts.

3. Give the strongest thoughts a single word – definition.

4. Experiment with form. Write prose or free verse of dialogues or letters to a friend.

5. Write a rough draft.

6. Revise to read the next day to your parent or another adult.

Part D: Comprehension

Directions: Answer each of the following questions.

1. Who’s fame rests on Spoon River Anthology published in 1914?

2. Identify three facts about Langston Hughes’ life and work.

3. Which Afro-American poet joined the army, went to Korea, and was injured with shrapnel?

4. Who is regarded as the greatest poet in the English language and popularized the sonnet form in English poetry?

5. Identify at least three facts about Robert Frost’s life and work.

6. Who was the first Afro-American poet to receive the Pulitzer Prize?

7. Identify the Afro-American playwright who puts her poems to songs and dances.

8. Identify four facts about Countee Cullen’s life and work.

9. Who began to write about 1850, inspired by R.W. Emerson and Emily Bronte?

10. Who wrote, “In the summer of 1974 I had begun a series of seven poems. . . .which were to explore the realities of seven different kinds of women. They have numbered pieces: the women were to be nameless and assume hegemony as dictated by the fullness of their lives. I was smitten by my own language.”?

11. Identify at least three characteristics about e. e. cummings’ work.

12. Identify at least three facts about Gwendolyn Brooks.

13. Who founded the Black Community Development and Defense organization, a Moslem group, committed to affirming Black political power?

Lesson 6: Poetry of the Greatest

Lesson 6: Poetry of the Greatest


· distinguish among the types of literature

· understand selected literary works from various historical periods

· understand selected literary works that manifest different value systems and philosophies

· understand the literary elements and techniques used to convey meaning

· recognize literary themes and their implications


This lesson introduces some background in the literature of American poetry. The poetry has been selected with three criteria: (1) the poem is an American classic; (2) the poem represents an important regional influence such as Afro-American poetry; (3) the poems of English literature which are classics and have strongly influenced American poetry. After completing the exercises, you should be able to connect and use your present experience of life and music with the experience and feelings of poems of older times and similar experiences.


A man sat quietly in Pecan Park,

his attire was dusty,

his skin was dark.

No whiskey or wine on his breath gave a scent,

just a wise old man with time well spent.

In a pocket was bread that he fed to the birds,

though he whistled and chirped he said not a word.

As the hours got elder he sat still on his spot,

was he waiting for family?

That he was not.

No son, no daughter nor wife for that part,

just bushes and birds and squirrels in the park.

Alone on the holidays no one to share with,

a Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas gift.

As I walked out of the park I thought of that man,

and many more like him,

poor homeless clans.

Danny D.F. Gorham (high school student)

Poets highlighted for this lesson include:

Robert Frost (b.1875, d.1963)

Poet of New England, New Hampshire. He is the poet of work, the farm-rural vs. urban living. He uses talk. There is meaning in each of his poems. Born in San Francisco, lived in California until his father died when his mother moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, and became a school teacher. After high school, Frost attended Dartmouth; however, he dropped out after one semester. He held odd jobs, factory work for the next several years. He married in 1895 and two years later, he entered Harvard. He studied English for two years leaving again without a degree. He taught school. In 1900, he bought a farm in Derry, Vermont where he lived for eleven years trying to make a living on rocky soil. In 1912, he decided to write full time and left for England where he lived for three years. In 1913 his first book was published, A Boy’s Will. When he came home to the United States, he was a recognized poet and his success continued. He lived on farms in Vermont and New Hampshire. He received a Pulitzer Prize. The poems included from his works are Death of a Hired Man, and Mending Wall

William Shakespeare (1564 to 1616)

Born in Stratford on Avon in England. He is regarded as the greatest poet in the English language and popularized the sonnet form in English poetry. He wrote 154 sonnets which were published in 1609. He refers in them to various people, a woman, a handsome man, and a rival poet. The sonnet is fourteen lines of IAMBIC PENTAMETER, with 5 stressed syllables for each line with a set rhyming pattern. His sonnets remain extremely popular even 400 years later. At 18 he married a local girl, Anne Hathaway. He had three children. By 1584 he had become famous in his own time.

Langston Hughes (b.1902, d.1967)

Black American poet and writer. Born in Joplin, Missouri, young Hughes was raised by his mother and grandmother. His father, a light-skinned black lawyer, left for Mexico when he became embittered by racial discrimination. After his grandmother’s death, Hughes and his mother moved frequently looking for better living conditions. Hughes discovered his identity with the “folks” and not the literary snobs. He was always the Harlemite, always the poet of the working poor. He moved to Harlem, where he began writing and published 75 books. His most famous poem, If we must die, was written in response to lynchings. It was read by Winston Churchill before World War II. It was the first time in history a Black writer wrote about fighting back.

Gwendolyn Brooks, Born in Topeka, Kansas, 1917

Her works deal with the everyday life of urban blacks. She grew up in Chicago, graduated from Wilson Junior College in 1936. Annie Allen, published in 1949, won her the Pulitzer Prize. It is a loosely connected series of poems relating to a Negro girl growing up in Chicago. The Bean Eaters published in 1960 contains some of her best verses and the poem “We Real Cool.” She stayed married to the same man until he died and is the mother of two children. She was the first Afro-American poet to receive the Pulitzer Prize. In The Mecca was published in 1968 and is a long narrative poem about people in Mecca, a fortress-like apartment building in Chicago, a slum. It contains two famous poems. “Boy Breaking Glass” and “Malcolm X.”

Imamu Amiri Baraka formerly Everett Leroi Jones (b. 1934) Newark, New Jersey

Afro-American poet – A leading Black Nationalist who writes of the experiences and anger of Afro-American people. He graduated from Howard University in 1953. He came from the middle class. His mother went to college, his father worked for the post office. He attended an integrated High School, was popular and well-liked. He did graduate work at Columbia University and lived in Greenwich Village in the late ’50s. He lived in the center of the Beatnik movement, married a Jewish woman, had two children. Later, he left his wife and went to Harlem where he started a theater and a school. The government broke into the school and accused him of having semi-automatic weapons. He moved back to Newark and started a Spirit House. Because of his involvement in Afro-American identity, he changed his name to Imamu-Spiritual; Amiri-Blessed; Baraku-Prince. In 1968 he founded the Black Community Development and Defense organization, a Muslim group, committed to affirming Black political power. “Air” and “A Poem for Black Hearts.”

Walker, Giovanni, and Ntozake Shange

Alice Walker is included as a contemporary Afro-American woman writer. Her book The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize, is enormously popular and it is helpful for understanding her poems. Alice Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia and now lives in San Francisco. She has published poetry, short stories, essays, novels as well as a biography of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston Reader. “On Stripping Bark from Myself,” “Gift,” “The Abduction of Saints,” “Hymn,” and “Burial.”

Nikki Giovanni (b. 1943) poems are considered revolutionary. She is a poet of black feelings. Poetry: “ego-tripping,” “My House,” “Trips,” “A Poem for Carol,” “Basketball,” from The Woman and the Men, The Women Gather, All I Gotta Do, The Way I Feel, Poem, and How Do You Write a Poem, The Funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ntozake Shange
is an Afro-American playwright who puts her poems to song and dances. Selections for this lesson module are fromFor Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. In her own words: “In the summer of 1974 I had begun a series of seven poems. . . .which were to explore the realities of seven different kinds of women. They were numbered pieces: the women were to be nameless and assume hegemony as dictated by the fullness of their lives. I was smitten by my own language.”

one thing i dont need

is any more apologies

i let sorry/didnt meanta/& how cd i know abt that

take a walk down a dark & musty street in brooklyn

i’m gonna do exactly what i want to

& i wont be sorry for none of it (p. 57. For Colored Girls.)

She is a poet of the city woman.

Countee Cullen (b.1903, d.1946)

He was one of the finest poets of the Harlem Renaissance. He was married to the daughter of W.E.B. DuBois for one year. Born in New York City, he went to high school in Harlem and graduated in 1925 from New York University. He received an M.A. from Harvard and wanted to write beautiful lyrical poetry. He was recognized and successful at a young age. He taught in New York City public schools. He struggled with his racial identity and Christianity and had a hard time believing in God. The sonnet “Yet Do I Marvel” addresses this conflict. “Heritage” addresses the question, “What is Africa to me?”

Claude McKay (b. 1890, d. 1948)

Born in Jamaica and died in 1948 in Chicago. He is of particular interest because of his Jamaican background. McKay was a good poet who also stands as a critic of race relations between the old days of Booker Washington and the black power movement of the 1960s. Before coming to American in 1912, he wrote two volumes of Jamaican dialect verse, Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads. He attended Tuskegee Institute 1912 and Kansas State Teachers College 1914. The shock of American racism turned him from his old conservative ways. He became the most militant poet of The Harlem Renaissance.

Emily (Elizabeth) Dickinson (b.1830, d. 1886)

American woman poet from Amherst, Mass. was a master of short lyric poetry. Her greatest literary output (800 poems) coincided with the Civil War. She attended school at Amherst Academy, then Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary in 1847 for a year. She did not return. Her gardens and her home in Amherst became her whole world. She began to write about 1850, inspired by R.W. Emerson and Emily Bronte. Her themes were love, death, and nature. Only five of her poems were published in her lifetime; she preserved the others in hand-sewn leather booklets. She wrote with great passion and wit. The remarkable thing about this great artist is that she was alone most of the time and almost no one knew that she wrote poetry.

e. e. cummings (b. 1894, d.1962)

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and died in North Conway, New Hampshire. Poet and painter. He eliminated all punctuation in his poems. He won the Bollingen Prize in Poetry 1957 and completed twelve volumes of poetry. His poems appeal to the young. They are tough or tender.

“The voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses.

Nobody, not even the rain,

has such small hands.”

These lines are from the poem “Somewhere I Have Never Travelled Gladly Beyond.”

Edgar Lee Masters (b. 1869, d. 1950)

His fame rests on Spoon River Anthology published in 1914. It ruthlessly exposed hypocrisy. He attended college, studied law, and practiced successfully in Chicago. In Spoon River Anthology, people speak from the grave about bitter unfulfilled lives in a small town. You will enjoy these short narratives of human lives – telling the truth from the grave.

Etheridge Knight (b. 1931)

Born in Missouri. An Afro-American poet who joined the army went to Korea and was injured with shrapnel. He became addicted to heroin to control the pain and resorted to armed robbery to support his habit. He spent eight years in prison. In prison, he started to write poetry. Poems from Prison and Black Voices from Prison. He was discovered by Gwendolyn Brooks and paroled from prison in 1968. His philosophy is that poetry belongs to the people: If the people won’t go to the poet then the poet should go to the people. He gives a lot of poetry readings. He writes about the dispossessed and life in prison. He makes an effort to understand the human realm – his theme is love, not revolution. Married three times, he once married Sonya Sanchez, a successful Black female poet. He has had to struggle with major addictions to drugs and alcohol.

“The Shine,” “Dark Prophesy,” “The Violent Space,” “The Idea of Ancestry,” and Belly Poems. In Belly Poems, Knight writes that’s where his feelings come from…from the guts.


Robert Frost: America’s Poet [ketzle.com]

African American Poets [famouspoetsandpoems.com]

Top 10 American Poems of the 20th Century [listverse.com]

Lesson 6 Review