Friday, February 17, 2017

Poetry Friday: Love, by Classic Authors, and by Me

This week, in honor of Valentine's Day, that festival of hormones and sugar, I read love poetry with my eighth graders.  I chose some classic poems to share with them, and I made the point every day that people throughout history have had some of the same experiences and emotions as we do now, even though their technology and surroundings were very different.  On Monday we read Michael Drayton's "Since there's no help," on Tuesday "The Constant Lover," by John Suckling, on Wednesday "To Lucasta, On Going to the Wars," by Richard Lovelace, and on Thursday, Ezra Pound's "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter." 

I framed "Since there's no help" as "a break-up poem," and taught the word ambivalent to discuss the difference between Drayton's claim: "And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart, /That thus so cleanly I myself can free" and then his wistful suggestion in the couplet at the end that his girlfriend might be able to make their love recover, even at this point.  We also talked about the amazing metaphor of their relationship as a patient in a hospital bed.  Here's the poem, or you can read this photo I took of my handout, on the floor, with footprints on it.

(By the way, I really think ambivalent is a highly useful vocabulary word, no matter how old you are, and I was reinforced in this belief by the delighted response of a girl in the front row as I explained that you could feel both that you loved someone and that you hated that person, or both happy and sad, and that was called ambivalence: "Hey!  That's how I feel!")

Tuesday's poem, "The Constant Lover," was a chance to talk about how it feels to have crushes on lots of people at once.  I taught the word constant (used ironically in the poem), and we evaluated the idea that if this girl Suckling is currently in love with were any less wonderful than she is, he'd have loved a dozen dozen others during the three days he's loved her.  How much is a dozen dozen?  (Someone always says twenty-four, but then we figure out that it's...well, look at what my white board said.)  Here's Suckling's poem.

On Wednesday, with "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars," we looked at the idea of going off to war, from the point of view of the guy who's leaving, and from the point of view of the girl who's getting left behind.  And that fabulous line: "I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honour more."  Here's that poem.  I just about jumped for joy today when an eighth grader turned in a response from Lucasta.

And then on Thursday, with "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter," we talked about arranged marriages and falling in love with someone you're already committed to, the opposite of the way we think of it today in the culture we live in.  Being married at fourteen to someone your parents picked for you?  Ew!  (Although one boy remarked, "Well, it depends who it is.")  But missing someone you love?  They have all experienced that.  Here's that poem.

I absolutely love all these poems, and you probably already know (especially if you're a teacher) that the students aren't quite as enthusiastic about them as I am.  But still, we have fun.  Yes, we do!

For my own love, I wrote a sonnet as my Valentine's gift, and he was very pleased with it and gave me permission to share it here.  You will probably recognize my opening couplet as a borrowing from William Shakespeare.  My husband and I were in a seminar together in college where we read all of Shakespeare's sonnets.  (We met in college, when I was still a teenager, and got married when I was twenty-one.)

Valentine for my Husband

“Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come.”

In all these years of Monday - Friday weeks
Our hair’s grown grayer, happy days and glum
Have been and gone.  Our fortunes rise and fall,
We’re sick, then well, our children quickly grow,
And still our love abides, and through it all
We learn some more of what we need to know.

It’s thirty years since we first read those lines.
Back then we thought we understood how time
Would reinforce our love, how Valentines,
Poems, and roses would endure, sublime.
Earthquakes of life we didn’t then foresee,
And yet, here we still are, my love and me.

by Ruth, from

Here's today's roundup.


Tabatha said...

What a beautiful post, Ruth, from you sharing your enthusiasm with your students (ambivalence IS a wonderful concept to know!) to your own lovely sonnet. Happy sigh. (And how romantic to have read the sonnets together...)

Linda B said...

Having taught the same age, and read love poems too during the Valentine's Day week, I love what you did, and the explanation of each, too, Ruth. Your class is lucky to have you and the knowledge you share with them. Your poem to your husband made me smile. You share that love in the small things that your husband gives to you, and this shows the beautiful love I wish everyone could have. I like this especially: "And still our love abides, and through it all/We learn some more of what we need to know." Thanks for sharing parts of your life today.

Doraine Bennett said...

Yes, here we still are. Lovely, Ruth.

Bridget Magee said...

Love your description of Valentine's as 'the festival of hormones and sugar' - for eighth graders especially! Your love poem for your husband is lovely: 'And still our love abides, and through it all
We learn some more of what we need to know.' Thanks for sharing, Ruth. =)

Jane @ Raincity Librarian said...

My partner and I met on our first day of college when we were 18, though he was studying engineering, so we never read Shakespeare together. ;-)

I remember absolutely HATING Valentines Day as a teenager - that's what happens when you're a painfully shy nerd who would rather jump into a crocodile-infested river than talk to a boy.... ;-)

Mitchell Linda said...

Ruth, I genuinely like your poem best. We are still here....through it all. Why do we think that our love tank is the most full as we start out? It's the living and loving still and through so much that increases love. I think you've captured that. And, your love is quite fortunate to be the recipient. Happy Valentine's. I so enjoy stopping by your place each week.

Mary Lee said...

"Valentine's Day, that festival of hormones and sugar, " -- I nearly snorted my tea out my nose!

You almost (almost) make me wish I taught older learners. Your week of love poetry sounds like all kinds of fun!!

Tara Smith said...

I would so love to be a student in your classroom, Ruth - what a rich set of poems and lessons to glory in!

Brenda Harsham said...

What a great teacher you are, Ruth. Your Valentine is lovely, especially the ending.

michelle kogan said...

I love your sonnet Ruth, it's heartfelt and a rich story, thanks for sharing it!

Sally Murphy said...

Such a great way to get poetry into the hands and minds of your students - one a day, different versions of love. Bravo. Your sonnet is wonderful I especially lvoed: "Earthquakes of life we didn’t then foresee"

Love is grand!

Jone MacCulloch said...

Thank you for sharing your week. I would have loved to been in class. And your sonnet to your husband, just wow.