University of Maryland Baltimore 4 Poems Discussion Questions

A.      After reading “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon, please respond to the following questions. 

1. Kenyon uses a comparative device known as a simile to compare happiness with: “like a prodigal / who comes back to the dust at your feet / having squandered a fortune far away.”  This is an intentional Biblical reference. Why do you think this comparison is effective and what was Kenyon perhaps trying to get across? Feel free to Google the reference if you are unsure of its biblical meaning.

2. Can happiness come to anyone? Kenyon gives many descriptive examples of who/what happiness “comes” to through the use of simplistic, yet powerful imagery–i.e. a monk in his cell, a sweeper, a dog, a clerk and so forth. Pick at least two of these images and comment upon them.

3. According to Poetry Foundation, “Jane Kenyon was noted for verse that probed the inner psyche, particularly with regard to her own battle against the depression that lasted throughout much of her adult life” (par. 1). Despite the poem’s evidence that happiness is indeed possible, is there evidence, too, within the poem that might allude to the poet’s personal struggles? 

B.   After reading “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden, please respond to the following discussion questions. 

1.  Why does the poem begin with the words “On Sundays too” (rather than say, “On Sundays?”). Can you find any examples of sound devices? (i.e. alliteration, consonance, assonance, and so forth?). Review these definitions as needed under elements of poetry in this week’s course content.

2.  Discuss briefly the speaker’s feelings and if they shift and change throughout the poem.

3.  How do you interpret “What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?”

.  C.     Class, begin a discussion, by replying to this post’s “Discussion Questions for Consideration.”  (Do not create a new thread)

Discussion Questions for “Facing It”

After reading Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem, “Facing It” which presents the poignant emotions of a Vietnam war veteran (in this case, the speaker of the poem is Komunyakaa) as he faces the war memorial, consider the following:

1.  The poet incorporates the use of metaphors (i.e. “I’m stone,” “I’m a window”) and similes (“..letters like smoke,” “My clouded reflection eyes me like a bird of prey..”) to enrich imagery and to heighten the speaker’s conflicted emotions. Similes and metaphors are comparative devices; similes use “like” or “as” in their comparisons while metaphors do not. Choose one simile and one metaphor and discuss the appropriateness of the image and its effect on the imagery–in other words, why do you feel the poet chose this particular image and what effect does it have?
2.  Can you determine two meanings to the title, “Facing It?”
3.  Although this poem was written about the Vietnam War, what relevance does it pose in our present world? You can consider past and present international conflicts? The effects of war on soldiers? 

D.     Class, begin a discussion, by replying to this post’s “Discussion Questions for Consideration.” 

After reading “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes, respond to the following questions.

1.  Hughes uses a central metaphor of a staircase, one not made of crystal, to compare the mother’s life to. Why do you think this metaphor is effective?
2.  The mother tells her son that her life has been full of “tacks,” “splinters,” “boards torn up,” and “places with no carpet.” The poet uses these concrete, tangible images as symbols/symbolism of the mother’s difficult experiences.  What could these images represent in the mother’s life? Be specific about what she may have been facing/going through. You can also keep in mind that the poem was originally published in 1922.
3.  Has a significant figure in your life ever given you the type of encouragement the mother gives to her son? Have you been the one to give the encouragement to someone you care about?

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