by Evelyn J. Mocbeichel
Can you recall the first time your high school English teacher announced the next unit of study would be poetry? We can almost hear the simultaneous groan and sighs of the students with this announcement. Admittedly, I felt the same, until our engaging and enthusiastic teacher shared poems with us that were thoughtful and caught our attention with their messages. With this thought, it reminds me of several excellent quotes about poetry that have remained with me long after school days were over. For instance, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote “Poetry: the best words in the best order.” Or Dylan Thomas saying, “The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it.”
What exactly are the qualities of a good poem and one that remains memorable, often over a century? First of all the poem must tell a story and its words describe a visual picture for the reader to imagine. The poem should have a main idea as its focus and can tell the story with just the right words without excess that detracts from the point of its message or tale. After reading the poem some kind of emotion should be evoked whether happiness, sadness, curiosity or humor as well as others a reader may feel. When our class was first introduced to poetry, our teacher made it fun by starting with Ogden Nash, known for his light verse and whimsical humor. Born in Rye, New York and Harvard educated, his poems entertained both adults and children when he often misspelled words just so they would rhyme. As entertaining as Dr. Seuss, among his most noted poems were Eels, The Fly, The Guppy and The Jellyfish.
As high school English classes progressed and we moved to senior year, along the way the poetry selections became more intense. When in grade school my first surprise being introduced to poetry was that they all did not have to rhyme! There are so many forms of poetry like sonnets, ballads, haiku, and verse, another learning aspect of the subject of poems. When “heavier” topics and subjects of the poems were introduced, they often required translation of each stanza by our teacher, but others were easily understood. There are two such poems that still remain in my thoughts today and the first is To an Athlete Dying Young by A.E. Housman and the other is Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson. The poem about the athlete relates how a young man passed away too early when he was in his prime and the reader is led to reflect on another aspect of this event with the words “Smart lad, to slip betimes away from fields where glory does not stay, And early though the laurel grows It withers quicker than the rose”. In the second poem, Richard Cory is a man of immense wealth, extremely handsome, tall and slim and makes the young ladies pulses flutter when he passes by in the street. In essence, he had all that one desired in life that all the townspeople envied when they thought of what he possessed. The ending of the poem startles the reader, but not in the way one expects. Space here does not provide enough room to include these two poems in their entirety. But they are well worth looking up on the internet or your old school English books you may have kept.
Best Poems While you are looking for poems to revisit from your school years, here are a few more you may want to read or introduce to your high school aged children. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, In Flanders Fields by John McCrae and O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman.