Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Professing Literature: Poetry Lesson Plan

If I had to teach a poetry lesson, I'd teach John Donne. Partly because he's a wonderful writer, partly because he was the first poet I really "got", but mostly because he seems so teachable. I had fun picking out which poems I would teach--I selected "The Good Morrow" because it's one of my favorite poems ever, and two of the "Holy Sonnets" because they're a good mix of religious passion and the physical world. That's part of the beauty of Donne; he is able to use concrete, physical images to approach complex ideas, such as our relationship to the Divine, love, passion, etc.

Our assignment was to come up with a lesson plan on poetry for one class period. Without further ado, I present my lesson plan:

Jenn Miller
ENGL 5803
David Jolliffe
February 21, 2007

Poetry Lesson Plan: John Donne

Prior to class: Students should have read the poems and responded to them in a journal. The journal is a one page piece of informal writing that asks the students to address the poems in terms of elements that struck them particularly, whether it interested, bored, called up strong emotions of love or distaste, etc. The point of the journal is for them to engage the text. Any lines or elements they did not understand are also good journal material. The journals are an out-of-class assignment to help generate discussion within class.

Focus: To begin class, I will recite “The Good Morrow” from memory, as dramatically as possible. I will briefly touch on personal experiences with the poem’s meaning, introducing the way poetry written almost four centuries ago can still be relevant to a reader, and the way elements in Donne’s poetry can capture a reader’s imagination, intellect, and emotions.

Purpose: By the end of class, students will recognize characteristic elements of Donne’s work: the “metaphysical conceits”, Donne’s use of metaphor (especially his use of concrete, physical images—the metaphysical aspect), his combinations of erotic love and religious passion, his complex and innovative structure, and the reflection of his personal circumstances on the nature of his poetry. Students should also be able to recognize poetic devices such as line breaks, pauses, word choice and other elements that are effective in enhancing the meaning in Donne’s work.

Overview: We’ll begin class with a discussion of journal writings. Afterwards, I’ll lecture briefly on Donne’s life and characteristic elements of his work, using “The Good Morrow” as an example. We’ll then break into groups to review the two remaining poems, and then come back together to discuss them.

Business: Class business, if any, conducted at this time. (Attendance, picking up journals).

Short discussion: what about the poems struck the students as being distinct from other poems they’ve read? Were there elements that confused the students? Did the poems elicit any strong emotions? Were the students able to identify with the speaker in any of the assigned poems?

Brief lecture: The purpose of the lecture is to give details of Donne’s biography and the time period that he lived in, placing him in his historical context (following Shakespeare, writing before Milton, etc) and alerting the students to certain historical conditions (the anti-Catholic nature of England in his life, etc). I’ll use “The Good Morrow” to help define certain terms (metaphysical conceits, etc) as well as demonstrate characteristics of Donne’s poetry, such as his use of broken lines, language, and metaphor. “The Good Morrow” uses the conceit of a world to describe the power of love, which helps the reader access the poem’s meaning.

Group work: Break the students into groups by poems, perhaps two groups to each poem, depending on the size of the class. They will be examining Donne’s use of language, the metaphors he uses in his religious poetry (the two Holy Sonnets), and other elements from the lecture earlier in class. Walk around as they discuss to monitor and offer assistance as needed. After sufficient time, ask each group to share with the class what they’ve discovered within their poem.

Closure: Review what I hope the students have learned about Donne’s work and poetic elements as a whole. Ask the students to continue to think about what makes effective poetry (for perhaps a creative writing assignment later, or an essay). Remind them of any work coming up for the next class period (including journals).

Assigned Poetry: John Donne[1]

“The Good Morrow” (1633)
I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then,
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seven sleepers’ den?
‘Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty did I see,
Which I desired, and got, ‘twas but a dream of thee.

And now good morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to others, worlds on worlds have shown:
Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp North, without declining West?
Whatever dies was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.

From Holy Sonnets

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captivated, and proves weak or untrue.
But dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy,
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt
To Nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,
And her soul early into heaven ravished,
Wholly on heavenly things my mind is set.
Here the admiring her my mind did whet
To seek thee, God; so streams do show the head;
But though I have found thee; and thou my thirst hast fed,
A holy thirsty dropsy melts me yet.
But why should I beg more love, whenas thou
Dost woo my soul, for hers offering all thine:
And dost not only fear lest I allow
My love to saints and angels, things divine,
But in they tender jealousy dost doubt
Let the world, flesh, yea, devil put thee out.

[1] All poems taken from The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 1, pgs 1236-1276.

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