by Brett Vogelsinger
Our class reads the poem "Coming Home at Twilight in the Late Summer" by Jane Kenyon twice (like every poem of the day) to enhance our understanding and enable a close reading of the text. After the first read, I ask students to identify their favorite line or phrase in the whole poem. I highlight these student selections on the screen where I have projected the poem. Next we discuss this question: "What do these lines all have in common?" Often, they pick out lines with the most precise language and imagery like "the shut-off engine ticked as it cooled" or "our steps made black holes in the grass." This opens an opportunity to examine the merits of using specific imagery in our own writing.
Just before the second read, I ask students to look for clues about the situation of the people in the poem. Where are they "coming home" from? How long have they been away? How do they feel about it?
Many kids conclude from "the unpacking, the mail" and "the grass needed mowing" that they have been on vacation for a long while. Depending on your class, they may observe details like the "grateful" feeling the speaker expresses at thee end of the poem and the almost Edenic fresh start at the pear tree. In classes that pick up on these finer details, I like to share my background knowledge that Jane Kenyon battled cancer, and we start to look for evidence that maybe she is coming home from treatment or a hospital stay. There are many finer details that support this interpretation too.
Ultimately, students love the rich detail in this poem that feels like walking through a sepia-toned home movie. As one student put it, "the poem really takes you there."
Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.