Publication Date: September, 2018
Location: poetsonline.org, then go to Archive, then ‘poetry in school‘.
Genesis: This is one of those poems I would never have written without the prompt. However, once I picked up the challenge, it seems to have reignited some deep frustration with the way I was taught poetry; indeed, with the way in which it is still taught today. Today, I’m more than happy to speculate about what a poet may have meant with a particular line, or phrase, or word, or structure. I’d have enjoyed such discussions as a kid, too. My problem came when the teachers passed on such speculation as ‘fact’. “This is how it is, boys and girls! Remember what i’m telling you, repeat in in your exams, and all will be well.” No! Of course we can speculate, but how can any of us hope to successfully get inside another persons head? And if they lived 183 years ago, we’ve got even less chance. Teachers should be honest, and make it clear that, unless the poet told us direct, it’s all speculation, even that which is considered ‘received wisdom’. Don’t get me started…
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day While I wander lonely as a cloud And rage, rage against the dying of the light As the vorpel blade went snicker-snack? In stunted classroom, taught to test, Learn, out-loud, recite, discuss What the long-dead poet really meant When he wrote, “Hold infinity in the palm of your hand” In line three. Oh yes, I guess we can guess What any poet, now bones and worms Was thinking about A hundred and eighty-three years ago On a Tuesday afternoon. But is your opinion really better than mine, Or more valid, Just because you’re my teacher today?