Poetry has always concerned itself with beauty. Attempts at pinning down what either word means lead to a common lexicon: we use words like "stirring", "graceful", "truthful" regarding each; each is seen as the meeting of form and function.
Poetry is the verbal home of beauty, and any truly beautiful phrasing, even when it is not written in verse, is said to be "poetic." Because of this close relationship, and because writing is, by definition, the most analytic of artistic pursuits, poetry often takes up issues of what we consider to be beautiful, by both discussing and implying the subject's beauty. Examples can be found throughout Exploring Poetry, such as John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," which offers us one of the most enduring insights into the nature of beauty to be found in the canon of Western Civilization: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
Instructors can use examples from Exploring Poetry to help students clarify the concepts of beauty that they already hold.
Summary: Students will read one of the poems that discuss a flower, plant, fruit, etc., and describe the sensory impressions they receive from the item, relating it to how it is used in the poem.
Suggested Teaching Strategy: hands-on observation, describing
Learning Outcome Skills: analyzing, describing, evaluating
Related Curricula: creative writing, botany, biology
Required Time: one fifty-minute class period
Materials: sample vegetation, microscope or magnifying glass
Students will take a flower, plant or fruit that is discussed in one of the poems and examine it in depth, recording information about each of the five senses (taste, smell, touch and sight, and even, with some imagination, hearing). some examples are: Burns "A Red Red Rose"; Basho's "Yellow Rose Petals"; Parker's "One Perfect Rose"; the figs in Rita Dove's "This Life"; the various vegetation in Nikki Giovanni's "Knoxville, Tennessee"; the hazelnuts in Keats "To Autumn"; the cocoa, alligator pears, etc. in Claude McKay's "The Tropics In New York"; the peach in Eliot's " The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"; Plath's "Blackberrying".
If the equipment is available, the item should be examined under a microscope or magnifying glass. After thoroughly recording their findings in each sense category, the students should go back to the original poem and evaluate how the author wrote about the object. By comparing their sensory perceptions to the poet's rendition of the object, students should question the choices that a poet makes in representing beauty on the page.