In one of our recent units, our students paired a photo essay on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC with the poem “The Vietnam Wall” by Alberto Rios. We focused on how the photo essay and the poem treated the same topic (gotta hit that “Analyzing Different Mediums” standard). With National Poetry Month upon us, I started thinking about poetry pairings to celebrate this occasion. It’s been my experience that students learn best when they can see the connections between the texts that they’re reading. Bonus points if they can make connections to their own lives. Below are 18 poetry pairings for some of the most commonly taught poems. These paired poems include both classic poems for high school students as well as some others not always covered in canon.
Poetry Pairings #1 – Topic/Theme: Death
Because what list would be complete without some rumination on death?
- “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson and “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas. While both deal with the topic of death, Dickinson’s narrator is caught unawares by it while Thomas’ is fighting against it.
- “Death Be Not Proud” by John Donne, “No Man is an Island” by John Donne, and “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas. Use the two Donne poems to discuss if his perspective on death changed over the course of his life. Pair one, or both, Donne poems with “Do Not Go Gentle” for a discussion on how people should face death.
- “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and “Sea Fever” by John Masefield. At first glance, both of these poems appear to simply be about the sea. On a deeper level, however, both deal with death.
- “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”, both by Robert Frost. Discuss how Frost uses nature imagery as well as how he addresses aging and death.
Poetry Pairings #2 – Topic/Theme: Nature
The beauty of nature does lend itself nicely to some poetry.
- “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, “The Road Not Taken”, and “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”, all by Robert Frost. Discuss how Frost uses nature imagery as well as how he addresses aging and death. Analyze the literal and metaphorical journeys in “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by the Woods”.
- “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost and “To The Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick. Both poems use nature imagery to explore the topics of youth and time.
- “A Dream within a Dream” and “Annabel Lee”, both by Edgar Allan Poe. Compare and contrast the impact of nature on each speaker.
Poetry Pairings #3 – Topic/Theme: WWI
I took a class on WWI literature in grad school, and to this day some of these poems still stick with me. These poetry pairings go great with prose and/or informational pieces on the era. Disillusionment anyone?
- “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Winfred Owen, “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats, and “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. All three poems use imagery to discuss the horrors of warfare. Discuss how each poem addresses the effects of World War I and what lessons can be learned from them.
- “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats and “The Soldier” by Ruper Brooke. Brookes’ poem, written in 1914, addresses the mood of England leading up to WWI, while Yeats’, written in 1919, discusses the aftermath. Pair together to examine the mindset and popular opinion shift after WWI.
Poetry Pairings #4 – Topic/Theme: Fleeting Life
“Life’s but a walking shadow.”
- “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost, “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” by and “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks. While stylistically different, all three poems deal with the fleeting quality of life.
- “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and “Sea Fever” by John Masefield. These two poems deal not only with death, but the quick lives we lead prior to it.
Poetry Pairings #5 – Topic/Theme: Love
You can’t have a list of poems without love poems, right?
- “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee”, both by Edgar Allan Poe. Both of these famous poems certain around one of Poe’s favorite topics – the death of a beautiful woman.
- “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe and “Sonnet 18” by Williams Shakespeare. Separated by almost 200 years, both Poe and Shakespeare explore how love changes us. Compare and contrast these two different types of love poems.
- “To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet, “Sonnet 43” by Elizabeth Barret Browning” and “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare. All three declare their love and desires for their love to live eternally. They have some pretty great imagery too.
Poetry Pairings #6 – Topic/Theme: Miscellaneous
Last but not least, poems in their topics.
- “America” by Claude McKay, “I, Too” by Langston Hughes, “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay, and “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar. All four poems deal with the hardships faced by African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- “The Lady of Shallot” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. Written ten years apart, this poetry pairing characterized Victorian-era poems. Compare and contrast themes, styles, and tones.
- “Harlem” by Langston Hughes and “Ex-Basketball Player” by John Updike. Both explore the tragedy of unfulfilled dreams.
- “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes and “Women” by Alice Walker. Similar to the first set in this list, this poetry pairing focuses on the struggles of African-American women.
What are your favorite poetry pairings? Drop a comment below.
Looking for more poetry pairing ideas? Read 11 Poetry Pairings to Add to Your Classroom Today.
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