Core Description and Guidelines


Sample Policy Statements

Five Ways of Reading

Text Analysis Paper Assignments

Groupwork and Other In-Class Activities

Study Questions

Alternative Assignments

Tips from the Trenches

Sample Exams

Materials Grouped by Instructor

How to Read a Poem

I got this exercise from watching Professor Findlay. He offered an approach for reading poetry

I emphasize that reading poetry skillfully means accounting for the words on the page - none of this reading between the lines. They have to actually read the words on the page and so this exercise is really about getting them to slow down, pay attention to the details of the poem, consider how various poetic elements (metaphor, voice, rhythm, pattern, etc.) all come together to create meaning.

NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING (1957) Stevie Smith (1902-1971)

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

NOTE: I use this poem on the first day of introducing poetry. I spend nearly an entire period on just this poem, going over it line by line. What follows is a general outline of the points I cover. Students relate well to this poem and that is useful. They don't always want to admit that it is about them, but they have a lot of "friends" that it fits perfectly.

Side note: This poem becomes a useful reference when later in the semester we tackle "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" - all that business about "Till human voices wake us and we drown."