Teach This Poem: “blessing the boats" by Lucille Clifton
Teach This Poem is a weekly series featuring a poem from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help K-12 teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom.
Marine by Salomon van Ruysdael (Dutch, Naarden, born ca. 1600–1603, died 1670 Haarlem). Date: 1650. Medium: Oil on wood. Dimensions: 13 5/8 x 17 1/8 in. Credit: Purchase, 1871. www.metmuseum.org.
Project the image of the painting “Marine” in front of the class. Give your students plenty of time to view the image and ask them to write down what details they notice—colors, brushstrokes, etc. Then ask them to imagine what could happen to any of the boats that are heading out to sea, using what they’ve noticed as a foundation.
Small-group discussions: Ask your students to share what they noticed about the painting and what they imagine could happen next. Ask them to work together to arrive at a shared imagining for the future of the sailboats heading out to see. Based on the imagining, each group should compose a list of what they might say to the people on board the boats that are heading out to sea. Ask each group to share their lists with the whole class.
Project the poem “blessing the boats” in front of the class. Ask your students to read the poem silently and to write down what jumps out at them. Ask one student to read the poem aloud to the class, while the others list anything new they notice during the reading. Ask a second student to read the poem aloud, following the same process.
Back in their small groups, your students should share what they noticed in the poem. How does it relate to what they noticed in the painting?
Whole-class discussion: While Lucille Clifton’s poem can be read and understood as being about a boat, it can also be read as a metaphor for something else. (If you have not discussed metaphors with your class, define the term for them.) Using what they’ve noticed in the poem as evidence, what do your students think the boats might represent?
In recent weeks, students around the country have become activists and are leading campaigns to change minds and laws. Ask your students to write about how this poem might relate to the context of student activism today. Ask for volunteers to read their writing to the class.