This is a poem that I love teaching in an introduction to literature class – it’s a great introduction to poetry for students because it’s rich with possibilities – because it’s open.
This is how we do it.
I hand-write the whole poem on the board. Then, we go through the poem line by line, stanza by stanza with this one question: “What could this mean?” Then I write and draw all over the poem as the students contribute ideas. If the class is engaged, then the whiteboard becomes quite an art work by the end of the class. We don’t shoot down any ideas – as long as it makes some sense, linked even tangentially to the overall poem, we write it on the board. At the end, the students are quite proud of the unpacking they’ve done. They’ve split the poem wide open.
For example, we tried to understand these lines:
O thin men of Haddam,Why do you imagine golden birds?
- Student A: Maybe it means poor. They’re thin because they’re poor.
- Student B: Maybe it means transparent – thin like “I can see right through you.”
- Student C: Maybe it refers to winter – makes you think of cold weather. I don’t know – maybe it doesn’t make sense.