When poets craft their work, they choose words carefully. To appreciate poems, you need to read them slowly, paying attention to the way the poet appeals to your imagination through your senses. Like painters, poets create images, but with words. Some images are formed when the poet describes an object. Others are created through figurative language. That’s when a concrete image is used to symbolize an abstract concept, such as love or loyalty. Poetry is often meant to be read aloud, and so poets carefully listen to the sound of each line. They use auditory devices, such as rhythm and rhyme, to appeal to your sense of hearing. Poets also care about the way a poem looks on the page. Some poems have stanzas of equal length. Others vary the shapes and length of
lines. In concrete and shape poems, poets invent layouts that reflect their themes.
Read poems. Listen to poems. Imagine them into being.
image: a vivid or graphic description of something created by the poet
figurative language: the way in which poets link one thing to another through such devices as similes, metaphors, and personification
auditory devices: devices, including alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia, which
enhance meaning when the poem is read aloud
rhythm: the flow and beat of the words and lines of a poem, created by the pattern
of stressed and unstressed syllables
rhyme: the repetition of similar sounds at the ends of words
There is something odd in the road ahead.
Aman in a black coat walking a dog,
a tall man in a long black coat walking a big red dog,
or is it a black mare with a red colt.
don’t let me hit them.
I don’t like
to be splashed by death.
The car stops in time
and I roll down the window.
There is a cow moose
standing not ten feet away
and her calf a little farther off,
neither of them knowing what to make of the headlights,
bright as lightning, solid as the light
of a full moon on a cloudless night.
Then the cow crosses over, very slowly,
not looking back
until she reaches
the edge of the woods
on the other side
and finds the calf has not followed her,
but gone back
and they look at one another
across the light that separates them
and perhaps she makes little coaxing sounds I can’t hear,
while I will him
not to run away where they might never find each other
John Keats (Born 1795, England; died 1821) was the son of a livery stable manager.
He studied medicine, but chose to support himself as a writer, publishing his first
volume of poems in 1817. He is considered one of the principal Romantic poets. His
best-known works include “Ode to a Nightingale” and “La Belle Dame sans Merci.”
Selection Activities, p. 222 La Belle Dame sans Merci 211
Richard Van Camp
I remember one time in Fort Rae
I was walking with my cousins,
four girls, who were walking with me
they were laughing at me those girls
and I was wearing my father’s boots
two sizes too big for me
and these four girls
these four cousins
they laughed at me as I dragged my boots
“You girls,” I said, “what’s so funny?”
stopped me and pointed to my feet
“Auntie told us, if you’re going to marry a man,
listen to his feet when you walk with him
if he drags his feet when he walks
you must not marry him;
he is lazy
he won’t be a good father
he won’t be a good husband.”
And those four girls
those four cousins
they ran far ahead of me laughing
and this time
when I ran after them
I lifted my feet as high as I could.
Richard Van Camp (Born 1971, Northwest Territories), poet, novelist, short-story writer,
and radio dramatist, is a member of the Dogrib nation. His poems and short stories
appear in many anthologies. His first novel, The Lesser Blessed, was published in 1996.
To My Son
Helen Fogwill Porter
When you were small
you used to climb
in our bed
when lightning ripped the sky.
We’d hold you tight
while your father said:
“That storm is miles away”
a second before the room
with fearsome light.
Now when lightning strikes
you stay in your own
trying to think of other
and we in our wide bed
sigh separate sighs
because we no longer know how
to comfort you.
Helen Fogwill Porter (Born 1930, St. John’s, Newfoundland), writer of short stories, novels, plays, poetry and nonfiction, has had works appear in many Canadian publications. Her 1991 novel A Long and Lonely Ride is set in her birthplace. Several of her plays have been produced on stage and for CBC radio.
Selection Activities, p. 223 To My Son 213
We are Africville
we are the dispossessed Black of the land
creeping with shadows
into the place made for us
creeping with pain away from our home
carrying, always carrying
Africville on our backs
in our hearts
in the face of our child and our anger.
I am Africville
says a woman, child, man at the homestead site.
This park is green; but
Black, so Black with community.
I talk Africville
and to you
until it is both you and me
till it stands and lives again
till you face and see and stand
on its life and its forever
No house is Africville.
No road, no tree, no well.
Africville is man/woman/child
in the street and heart Black Halifax,
the Prestons, Toronto.
Wherever we are, Africville,
you and we are that Blackpast homeground.
We mourn for the burial of our houses, our church, our roads;
but we wear Our Africville face and skin and heart.
For all the world.
Maxine Tynes (Born 1949, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia), poet and playwright, is a descendant of Black Loyalists who settled in Nova Scotia. Her poems have been published in numerous literary anthologies and in collections of her own work. She has co-written and performed in a CBC radio docudrama, and is known for her lively poetry readings.
Fear hung over me.
I dared not try
to hold out in my hut.
Hungry and chilled,
I stumbled inland,
tripping, falling constantly.
At Little Musk Ox Lake
the trout made fun of me;
they wouldn’t bite.
On I crawled,
and reached the Young Man’s River
where I caught salmon once.
for fish or reindeer
swimming in the lake.
reeled into nothingness,
like run-out fish-line.
Would I ever find firm ground?
I staggered on,
muttering spells as I went.
Kingmerut was a member of the Copper nation from Ellis River, Queen Maud’s Sea,
in the Eastern Arctic. His poems were recorded by Knud Rasmussen, who collected
oral poetry in Canada and Greenland during the first decades of the 1900s.
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Half a league, half a league,
Rode the six hundred.
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre-stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not,
Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Born 1809, Somersby, England; died 1892) remains one of the
most popular Victorian poets. His most ambitious work was Idylls of the King, a series
of twelve narrative poems telling the legends of King Arthur and his knights.
Tennyson succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850.
Selection Activities, p. 225 The Charge of the Light Brigade 219
In memory of Victor Jara, the Chilean musician whose hands were smashed by the military to stop him from playing his guitar and singing for his fellow prisoners in the Santiago stadium. Along with thousands of others, he was tortured and finally killed there in September 1973.
All the machines in the world
stop. The textile machines, the paper machines,
the machines in the mines turning stones to fire.
Without hands to touch them, spoons, forks and knives
forget their names and uses, the baby is not bathed,
Lorna Crozier (Born 1948, Swift Current, Saskatchewan) attended the University of
Saskatchewan and the University of Alberta. Many of her poems are filled with images
of the prairie landscape. Her work includes ten collections of poetry, and in 1992 she
won the Governor General’s Award for Inventing the Hawk.
Agirl freezes in a telephone booth.
In her draughty overcoat she hides
A face all smeared
In tears and lipstick.
She breathes on her thin palms.
Her fingers are icy. She wears earrings.
She’ll have to go home alone, alone,
Along the icy street.
First ice. It is the first time.
The first ice of telephone phrases.
Frozen tears glitter on her cheeks—
The first ice of human hurt.
Andrei Voznesensky (Born 1933, Moscow, U.S.S.R., now Russia) is a poet who rose to
international prominence in the 1960s, while under constant pressure from Soviet officials. Voznesensky is a member of International PEN and has served as the vice-president of the Russian branch.
A thousand doors ago
when I was a lonely kid
in a big house with four
garages and it was summer
as long as I could remember,
I lay on the lawn at night
clover wrinkling under me,
my mother’s window a funnel
of yellow heat running out,
my father’s window, half shut,
an eye where sleepers pass,
and the boards of the house
were smooth and white as wax
and probably a million leaves
sailed on their strange stalks
as the crickets ticked together,
and I, in my brand new body,
which was not a woman’s yet,
told the stars my questions
and thought God could really see
the heat and the painted light,
elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight.
Anne Sexton (Born 1928, Newton, Massachusetts; died 1974) focused much of her poetry on her personal experience with depression. Between 1960 and 1974, she published eight volumes of poems, winning many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for Live or Die. Several more collections of her work were published after her death.
Sonnet XXIX: When in disgrace …
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,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
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 rememb’red such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
William Shakespeare (Born 1564, Stratford-upon-Avon, England; died 1616), poet and
playwright, is universally recognized as one of the greatest writers in the English language. He wrote most of his best-known plays during the 1590s and early 1600s, and
published his sequence of 154 sonnets in 1609. Today his works are performed and
studied all over the world
In the Almost Evening
In the almost evening loneliest time of day