Poems before The History of Love

"The park admits the wind, the petals lift and scatter / like versions of myself I was on the verge of becoming." 
"Sakura Park" Rachel Wetzteon   

Verse as Introduction - Poems Before The History of Love: Using poems (and one piece of verse) that are thematically related to the upcoming novel - to introduce and set the mood for the novel - while at the same time exercising our poetry interpretation muscles.

Lesson Overview (see also poems with notes)  

For more on the WHY see below in the thoughts on this lesson section.  No quiz today and you need to get started right away.  I usually stand at the door and give the handout with the poems to the students as they enter (and tell them to start looking at it right away).  

As soon as the bell rings, you want to get them into groups right away.  This is NOT group work - you want to put them into groups based on their geography of sitting (to save time) and put a number of people in the analysis group based on the length and to a lesser extent the difficulty of the poem.  The poems are all numbered on the handout - that makes things a little easier.  They are also about the same the length (and difficulty). There are 9 (10 after 2019 when I added a Pandemic era poem) poems and one piece of prose.  So that means in a typical class of 23-30 students you will put either 2 or 3 students together.  For this first time - you will have to eye it - you want them started on the poem analysis right away (in fact - tell them to start reading it right away - don't wait for everyone to be in a group).

On the handout are some general directions - especially as this is the first time they've done this in your class - go over the general directions and what you expect.  Tell them to read the poem aloud without stopping.  Next - go through it line by line and try and figure out what it means.  Remind them - they can look up words or names BUT NOT the poem.  I've never had students do that - hurray!  Tell them - and mean it - there are no wrong interpretations.  I tell them I don't care about SYMBOLISM (boo!), themes, etc.  Just try and figure out what is happening in the poem.  What is the story?  What are the cool words - ideas.  If they have time they can look at the poem as a metaphor - for what?  That's up to them.   The AP version has them look at methodology as well (they're going to be tested on it).

Give the students about 8-10 minutes (in a 50 minute period) to look at the poem.  You can't give more than that - because you want to come together as a class to discuss them.

After that time- tell students they need to now listen (and take notes) on what their classmates came up with.  REMIND them to take copious notes - and tell them - if they haven't figured it out - that the ideas in these poems will help them and give depth to the reading of the novel they are about to embark on.  The teacher has to be very cognisant of time here - spend as much time on each poem as you can - and still get through all of them.  The notes on my version of the handout (see below) form the basis of the questions and ideas that I will present about the poems BUT remember it is always better to hear from the students - if it is a matter of time - let what they have to say be the final word.

Go through each poem (and the one piece of prose) and AS YOU DO make sure students are taking notes.  Have the students read the poem aloud - either one of them or taking turns or in a creative way - and remind the class before the poem is read aloud that the rest of the students should at that time TAKE NOTES on what they think the poem means BEFORE the small group gives their interpretation.  The bookmark for this novel has lines from the poems on it - so it will bring this class - these ideas to the forefront as they are doing their reading.  At the end of class, remind them of what is due - there will be a quiz - and to follow their bookmarks and read ahead.

The Poems

The Poems with my notes  see below for student handout

The Poems with my Notes: PDF   

Once the students are done with their analysis in small groups - we come together and discuss.  90% or more of that discussion will be what the students came up with - the rest is covered in these notes - which are in turn, to a large part, the result of past student contributions.  PLEASE NOTE - These poems may NOT be in the same order as the student handout below - but they do contain all of the poems (the choice of poem evolves over time).  ALSO - ignore the Candide Reading Schedule - the poems were initially given at the end of The History of Love and before Candide.

Handout  - Poems    (most recent)

Poems before The History of Love:   

HONORS VERSION  Docx  PDF AP VERSION Docx PDF - These are the most recent poems (and one piece of prose) given out.  The AP Version has them looking for some things that they will be tested on for their AP Test.   I will usually have these on a desk by the door and students will grab or be given one as they enter the room.  These poems are given plenty of room for students to take notes on.
Bookmark with Poem Excerpts on the Back  Docx  PDF

Audio Visual Content


Remote Enhancements

 This is a Power Point that I used in Remote Learning and in the classroom to help get the students focused on their interpretations.



The students did their end of the year project on this short story one year - when I find it , I will put it here.

Class Recordings (for registered members)



What's Next & Unit Homepage

History of Love - Opening Discussion (1-34) - We have our first discussion of the actual reading!


  The Return of Martin Guerre - Film & Movie Questions

Thoughts on the Lesson 

By the time I left my school, every one of my novels - in both classes were introduced by a day of reading and interpreting poems.  What I am presenting here - is the result of an evolution.   It is all well and good to decide that you will begin a unit with poems - but just how will you cover those poems in class.  There are many constraints - the first is that many if not most students are uncomfortable with poetry - one of the major reasons to do this in my mind.   Another has to do with time - the poems are read cold - the students haven't read them before  (unless by chance) - AND I believe that's necessary because you don't want to give them more homework - they have started reading the novel in question.   So that has to be done AND you  need to discuss them (and possibly throw in some subtle connections to the novel (but definitely not overt - the poems or excerpts appear on their book marks - allow the students to do the heavy lifting).