Much like short stories, poems are great analysis fodder because they can usually be read within one sitting and there is often a surprising amount of meaning hidden within a few scant words. Written below are three poems which I believe every English class should analyze.
Each and All by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The speaker of this poem observes both society and nature and realizes the truth that, “Nothing is fair or good alone.” The speaker supports this conclusion by reminiscing about how the sparrow’s singing and the delicate seashells he found by the shore were beautiful in nature yet seemed to lose their immaculateness when he took them home, away from their original context. Within the final stanzas of the poem, the speaker relents that logic and experience are not enough to understand nature and yields that true beauty can only be found within the “perfect whole.”
Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson
The speaker of this poem embarks on a coach ride with a personification of death as the horses slowly take the speaker “towards eternity.” Dickinson uses balanced imagery to paint an almost comforting representation of death although one stanza, in particular, could be considered foreboding as it refers to the speaker’s house as a “Swelling of the Ground–.” What is particularly useful about this poem is how open it is to interpretation and is sure to elicit varied responses from students in regards to Dickinson’s personal interpretation of the nature of death.
In Just by E.E. Cummings
This poem is just plain fun to teach because it shows how literary devices extend beyond just metaphors and similes. Cummings stimulates the senses through the structure of his poem such as creating the effect of the actual sound and range of a whistle with the line, “whistles far and wee.” Despite how short this poem is, students might take a whole session just to discuss all ways the poem’s irregular structure work towards its and the reader’s understanding of the scene which Cummings masterfully and jubilantly displays for the readers.