by Zachary Sibel
As an English teacher, I find myself asking, “How do I get students to appreciate the classics?”
Steven Lynn says in Texts and Contexts, “The human drive to find organization and meaningfulness is so powerful that human beings can find shapes in clouds or the scorch marks of a tortilla. If we can find structure where there really isn’t any, we can also fail to detect structures, as in hidden codes or unknown languages.” In other words, we can make a poem a treasure hunt for hidden meaning.
I ask students what stands out the most to them in the "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost. We read the poem aloud as a class and discuss what the poem “does.” Most students will talk about the setting, a cold dark woods filling up with snow, or the speaker/ characters in the poem. I shift the focus of the discussion to the structure of the poem: “What does it look like? Why does it look like this?” Most students will note the four lines and four stanzas, to which I respond, “Why four?”
I demonstrate my knowledge of iambic tetrameter to the text (4 poetic feet/ 8 syllable line). I let students discuss “WHY FOUR” amongst their table groups and poll answers. Most classes come up with theories about the four seasons, and some students even interpreted it as the four rhythmic beats in a horse’s trot. I end the discussion with the idea that we may never know Frost’s intent for the number 4, but does it really matter? As readers of poetry, it’s okay to create our own meaning and find our own messages in a given text. Frost, of all people, would want that.
Zachary Sibel is a middle school English teacher, poetry and hip-hop enthusiast from Bucks County PA. Follow him @MrSibelEng