Teach This Poem: “As I Walk These Broad Majestic Days” by Walt Whitman

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.

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Featured Poem

“General View, Shipyard, Newport News, Va.”

“General View, Shipyard, Newport News, Va.”
Postcard, 1898–1931. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library.

Classroom Activities

The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.
 

  1. Warm-up (whip around): Go quickly around the room and answer the question, “How do you think people might have felt at the time period just after the Civil War?” If you need to pass, do so. As you answer, your teacher will be writing your answers in the front of the room.
  2. Before Reading the Poem (noticing and pair share): Look closely at the postcard image that is dated between 1898 and 1906. Write down what you notice. How does the postcard make you feel? (It can make you feel more than one way at the same time.) What images in the postcard contribute to these feelings? Share what you see and feel with a partner.
  3. Reading the Poem: Read the poem by Walt Whitman silently, then write down the words and phrases that jump out at you.
  4. Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud twice, and write down any additional words and phrases that jump out at you.
  5. Small-group Discussion: Based on what you noticed in the poem, how do you think the speaker in the poem felt at the beginning of the poem? What happens toward the end of the poem?
  6. Whole-class Discussion: Does the speaker in the poem feel the same way throughout the poem? In what stanza do things seem to change? What are the two different kinds of realities about which the speaker is talking? Which do they prefer? Why do you think this might be so?
  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Which of the two realities do you prefer? Write an essay comparing and contrasting the two mentioned in the poem, and explain why you prefer one over the other. (You can also decide that you like both.)  You must justify your answer with evidence no matter what you decide.
  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: What does the speaker in the poem say are “the visions of poets”? Why might the speaker think these are “the most solid announcements of any”? Why might someone else think differently? Stage a formal debate in which these two sides of reality are formally discussed.

More Context for Teachers

In an essay on Whitman and democracy, Khaled Mattawa writes, “The Civil War brought an end to slavery, but inequality and oppression of people of color, as it became less blatant, never ceased. And now, half a century after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, we see various entrenched powers of wealth and racism continuing to challenge the right of poor and non-white citizens to vote as well as denying them any meaningful access to their representatives. Whitman’s statement that the history of democracy remains unwritten, because a full democracy has yet to be enacted, remains true.” Read more.