William Butler Yeats Meets an Eighth Grader from West Philadelphia

byKathleen Therese Radebaugh

Poets are a dying breed; poets are becoming extinct in our society, especially in the classroom.  Students do not often pause and express their internal conflicts or responses to beauty in the form of stanza and meter.  Often our students develop informational or analytical essays to achieve understanding and meet the needs of the writing portfolios.  Our students need to process and express their interpretations into poetic form.  Our students need poetry just as much as poetry needs an audience of young, ambitious thinkers and advocates for change.

The purpose of this unit is for students to write two to three poems about unrequited love or rebellion.  Students will close read five to six poems by William Butler Yeats, a 20th-century Irish poet, with the New Critical approach followed by historical and biographical contextualization.  Yeats was conflicted about the Irish nationalist movement for independence and wrote about his broken heart for his country and first love, Maud Gonne.  This unit uses selected poems and prose pieces by Yeats to develop a connection with students living in Philadelphia that many of Yeats’ struggles during his adolescence and young adulthood mirror conflicts experienced today by them today.

(Developed for English Language Arts, grade 8; recommended for English Language Arts, grade 7)

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