Understanding poetry is an important skill for students to learn, but if your students are like mine many of them “hate” poetry. From experience I can tell you most of the groans come from students who don’t really know what poetry is. In addition, a lot of poetry is taught in isolation – a once a year poetry unit, and then kids never see it again. Instead of the once a year unit, try integrating poetry into your American history units!
Throughout history, people have used poems for a variety of reasons. Some poems have been written to commemorate an important event (such as a war), as protests, to honor religious beliefs, and to reflect people’s thoughts. All of these could be used to better understand historical time periods.
To help you integrate poetry into your units, here is a collection of poems and poets by American History time period. As always, please read the poems and make sure they are appropriate for your students.
War of 1812
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. – “Old Ironsides”
Ralph Waldo Emerson – “The Sphinx”
Emily Dickinson – “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”
Walt Whitman – “O Captain, My Captain” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”
Camp Meeting Poetry – veterans would gather and share their poems. A good example of this is by Adjutant Byers 5th Iowa Cavalry – “Sherman’s March to the Sea
Late Nineteenth Century
Cowboy Poetry – Cowboy Poetry is still written today, so there are historical poems as well as contemporary ones. Here are two poems from the early 20th century:
This website has a collection of classic cowboy poems: Cowboy Poetry
World War I
Early 20th Century
Carl Sandburg (Chicago Poet) – “Fog
World War II
Cold War/1950s & 1960s
This was the time of the Beat Poets and Protest Singers.