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The Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the Civil War Era

candle star kindle insertLesson Title: The Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the Civil War Era
Written by: Michelle Isenhoff
Length: 45-60 min.
Grade Level: 5-8
*This lesson plan, including the entire text of both poems, is available as a free pdf.

Lesson Overview:
Students will relate the experiences expressed within Longfellow’s poems to the cultural context of the Civil War era portrayed within the children’s historical novel, The Candle Star.

Introduction
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was America’s most popular poet of the nineteen century. He began his literary career in 1839 and wrote until his death in 1882, a span of years that included the American Civil War. Poetry was the primary storytelling media of the day—long before fiction and cinema overtook it. It was an age that still embraced Puritan thought and morality, which his work epitomized. His poems came across as unaffected and sincere, leading to a public image of a kindly, sympathizing, encouraging friend. His poems included his honest response to tragedy—with which so many could easily identify during the war—and simple everyday pleasures—to which a war torn nation longed to return. His popularity would decline sharply as America headed into the postmodernism and world wars of the early twenty-first century, but during Longfellow’s own lifetime he enjoyed tremendous success.

longfellow

Longfellow’s work was melodic and easy to read. He used standard forms, regular meter, and rhymed verses. They were easy to memorize in school or recite at home, which made them popular as family entertainment. Keep in mind, there was no television, no radio, not even electric lighting. Evenings were dark, quiet, and spent together as a family.

“Autumn” and “The Bridge” were both published in the volume entitled The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems (1845). “Autumn” is a metaphor for the changes that take place in life. “The Bridge recalls the pain of personal tragedy.

Objectives:
1. Students will read, analyze, and understand two poems written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
2. Students will learn the terms simile and metaphor.
3. Students will identify mood created by word pictures within poetry.
4. Students read and recognize literature as a record of human experience and identify its historical significance.
5. Students will respond to the poems and related them to their own life experience.

Preparation/Materials:
You will need a copy of Longfellow’s poems “Autumn” and “The Bridge”. Some background knowledge of Longfellow’s life and times is beneficial. Read his full biography here.

Activity:
1. Begin by asking students what they know about the American Civil War based on their reading of The Candle Star and other prior knowledge. List their responses on the board. Then ask them what it might have been like to live in such a time period. Discuss such things as the lack of modern conveniences such as electricity, the lack of modern entertainment, and the hardships of war.

2. Introduce the two poems “Autumn” and “The Bridge.” Explain that both are examples of poetry written by the very popular American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Explain that both were written in the two decades leading up to the Civil War but that Longfellow’s works remained popular long after the war. Ask the class to consider what they know about life during the Civil War era and think about what might have made Longfellow’s work so well liked during this time period.

3. Read “Autumn” aloud to the class. (Younger students: You may want to shorten it by choosing just one stanza.)

4. Identify and define any vocabulary words then discuss the meaning of the poem. (Older students: You may wish to also discuss how the poem’s meaning can be extended to represent the changes in life, not just the weather.)

5. Introduce the idea of word pictures and explain the terms simile and metaphor. Identify some similes and metaphors within the poem and discuss how they create a mood. What mood does the poem set?

6. Ask the students how this poem might be received by people experiencing the Civil War.

7. Repeat the exercises 4, 5, and 6 with “The Bridge.”

Assessment/Culminating Activity:
Ask the students to choose their favorite of the two poems. Assign a written response that explains why they chose that particular poem. What did they like or not like about it? What kind of emotion does it provoke? Then ask students to relate it to their own life experience. How are they able to identify with the poem? What has happened in their own lives that provokes their response?