When I have paired a poem with another poem or with an image, my seventh grade students have shared prolific responses. Pairing “Always” and “Hope is the thing with feathers” allows students to enter the discussion of a big idea using both modern and classic text. By inviting students to sketch Dickinson’s “thing with feathers,” I ask students to make meaning through drawing as well as discussion.
There will always be the waves
rushing in, tumbling out;
the moon, the fog, the orange
of the morning sun.
Sadness is not forever.
But let hope be.
Let it sit by seaside towns,
drift among villages,
wander in cities. Let it linger
in schools and shipyards
Let it call to you with the scent
of cinnamon, the taste of mint,
the faraway chant, the chime
of the clock.
There will always be the babble
of streams, birdsong,
the whisper of wind.
Sadness is not forever.
But let hope be.
Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Hope is the thing with feathers
Hope is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
First, students read aloud “Always” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich in pairs -- alternating stanzas or one as the first reader. (I have not yet shared Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers”.) The first question I ask is “What do you notice?”
Students turn and talk and then we share our observations as a whole group.
Students notice the poet’s use of repetition of words: the first and fourth stanzas end with “Sadness is not forever. But let hope be.” They notice the pattern the poet employs in various lines. “There will always be …” starts the first and fourth stanzas. “Let it …” is repeated in the second and third stanzas. Another pattern students notice is the listing of three words or phrases: “the moon, the fog, the orange”; “sit by seaside towns, drift among villages, wander in cities”; “schools and shipyards and factories”; "babble of streams, birdsong, the whisper of wind”. The rhythm the poet creates using repetition demonstrates how rhyming is not needed to create poetry’s mellifluous sounds.
Next, we discuss the poem’s message. If students need prompting, I ask them to consider the title and the repetition. Thanks to the repetition of the final lines of the first and fourth stanzas, students recognize that the poet is contrasting sadness from hope, urging readers to stay hopeful. When students consider the title, they connect this message to the poet’s imploring that remaining hopeful happen “always.” Moreover, as the second and third stanzas describe, staying hopeful happens everywhere and in everything--“by seaside towns... among villages...in cities...schools and shipyards and factories” and “with the scent of cinnamon, the taste of mint, the faraway chant, the chime of the clock.”
Now, I share Dickinson’s ““Hope is the thing with feathers.” Students read it aloud in pairs. Again, I ask students to point out what they notice. Given our recent discussion of Dotlich’s poem, students focus primarily on Dickinson’s metaphor for hope: “the thing with feathers.” They point out the lines that extend the metaphor: “perches,” “sings the tune,” “never stops,” “sweetest… That kept so many warm.” Then, I purposely ask students to sketch a bird in the margins of their paper, thinking about the parallels between a bird and hope as Dickinson describes.
The conversation grows to encompass Dickinson’s message about hope. Students notice the connections between Dotlich’s and Dickinson’s messages. Both promote the beauty of hope and highlight its ubiquity. I introduce the words ubiquity and ubiquitous because both poets show the sentiment that hope is ubiquitous. Dotlich shows this through repetition and pattern and Dickinson shows this through the extended metaphor. Students notice slight differences between the poets’ messages, too. While Dotlich urges readers to remain hopeful despite sadness as “advice” (according to one student), Dickinson “testifies” (again, a student’s observation) that hope is pervasive--in the “chillest land” and “strangest Sea.”
Since students have recently read Pandora’s Box during the Greek mythology unit, they draw connections to the ancient Greeks’ story and how hope remains in the box despite the release of all the world’s evils. We had discussed Greek myths as ancient people’s way of making sense of circumstances they did not understand. Both Dotlich and Dickinson share their understanding of hope in their poems. During a quick write session, I ask students to write about hope--a sketch, a poem, a memory. Students respond in a variety of ways--describing a time they felt hopeful or hopeless, drawing their own metaphor for hope, creating a character who brims with hope.
Michelle Ambrosini teaches seventh-grade English at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA.