KNOWLEDGE AND LANGUAGE:
IN PRAISE OF THE POETIC VOICE
CLASS ACTIVITY i
As with the Walt Whitman and Wallace Stevens poems used in an introductory class, students should read the Entirely poem in silence. Follow this by a public reading with a different volunteer taking of each of the three stanzas.
The poem is fairly accessible, so jump straight into the class activity...
Work solo. Attempt to distill each stanza from the Entirely poem into a single Tweet. Hand write them boldly on a single piece of paper. (Remember that a Tweet must have no more than 140 characters.) Add a correctly-formatted, pretend hash tag too!
Find a partner; share your tweets and have a rigorous critical conversation about your word choices. Next, working collaboratively, distill your total of six Tweets into a single Tweet that captures the essence of the entire poem. (Don't forget your hashtag.)
If we could get the hang of it entirely
It would take too long;
All we know is the splash of words in passing
and falling twigs of song,
And when we try to eavesdrop on the great
Presences it is rarely
That by a stroke of luck we can appropriate
Even a phrase entirely.
If we could find our happiness entirely
In somebody else’s arms
We should not fear the spears of the spring nor the city’s
Yammering fire alarms
But, as it is, the spears each year go through
Our flesh and almost hourly
Bell or siren banishes the blue
Eyes of Love entirely.
And if the world were black or white entirely
And all the charts were plain
Instead of a mad weir of tigerish waters,
A prism of delight and pain,
We might be surer where we wished to go
Or again we might be merely
Bored but in the brute reality there is no
Road that is right entirely.
Louis MacNeice (1940)
What have your learned about the difference between everyday, colloquial prose and the poetic voice?
CLEOPATRA: LANGUAGE BREAKING DOWN
For her own person,
It beggared all description: She did lie
In her pavilion—cloth-of-gold, of tissue—
O’er picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature…
Enthroned i’th’market-place, did sit alone,
Whistling to th’air, which, but for vacancy
Had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too,
And make a gap in nature...
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety. Other women cloy
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies; for vilest things
Become themselves in her, and the holy priests
Bless her when she is riggish.
From Antony and Cleopatra: Act II. Scene II.
Anthony and Cleopatra is only rarely taught at the high school level. All English students are familiar with line-by-line unpacking of Shakespeare. This famous passage is well worth a close reading.
CLASS ACTIVITY II
Students could be divided into groups of four with one volunteer playing the role of the literature teacher. The groups should thoroughly milk the text before reporting back to the whole class. It is very likely that a student will mention the delicious irony that Cleopatra would have been played by a young boy in Shakespeare’s day. The following questions may or may not widen the scope of the discussion and point students towards some relevant knowledge issues.
SPECIFIC GUIDING QUESTIONS
Did people in Elizabethan England talk like this? How do we know?
Shakespeare does not provide a straightforward description of Cleopatra. What do we get instead?
What can we discern about both the power and the limits of language from this text?