The Poetry Place
This is an interesting poem to share with students early on because it is, at least on the surface, easy to understand. The vocabulary is very straightforward but do check that they understand what is meant by tyrant, boughs and drear. The poem having been read through a couple of times, the question arises, why can she not go?
Clearly, there’s no simple answer to this but allow a couple of minutes for students to jot down two responses to the question. You could introduce a note of levity and allow them one silly answer and one sensible one each! Then get the silly ones out of the way (‘She’s tied to a tree, miss. Her foot is caught in a trap. She’s broken her ankle… ‘ Or more sensibly, ‘a witch has put her under a spell’. None of these address the last line: ‘I will not, cannot go.’)
Share the possible answers and admit that there isn’t an agreed one. Whatever is holding her is not physical but psychological and their interpretations are as likely to be appropriate as anyone else’s. For some students this is liberating, for others who wish to be told ‘the answer’ it is terrifying. This is a good point in the course to discuss these issues and try to get them to understand the difference between a valuable opinion and any thought that comes into one’s head.
Finally, if they can handle the idea, it is possible that the writer did not fully know what she meant but was trying to express a feeling which it is impossible to put into words.
By this time they will be ready for some light relief. Use the Revelation activity in Unlocking Literature either in pairs if they have access to a copy or as a class to see how much of the poem they can remember. As well as being fun, it’s a great way to embed lines of the poem in their minds.
It’s always worth giving a few clues, I think, something like this: Spellbound
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