Explore American history through poems and visual art!

The American Library Association's Public Programs Office asked Poets.org to compile supplementary resources for Picturing America, the National Endowment for the Humanities's initiative to incorporate visual arts in library and classroom activities involving literature and social studies.

The ongoing program operates on the premise that "the nation's artistic heritage—our paintings, sculpture, architecture, fine crafts, and photography—offers unique insights into the character, ideals, and aspirations of our country."

American poets have always engaged with the ever-changing landscape of their fellow artists. Collected here is a sample of that rich dialogue in which poetry has tweaked, stolen from, and inspired these historical works of art.

Literary Connections 

View Image Detail 3-A: "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" by Grant Wood

Paul Revere's Ride
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Concord Hymn
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

View Image Detail 3-B: "George Washington" by Gilbert Stuart

Washington's Monument, February, 1885
by Walt Whitman

Occasioned by General Washington's Arrival in Philadelphia, On His Way to His Residence in Virginia
by Philip Freneau

The Father of My Country
by Diane Wakoski

View Image Detail 4-A: "Washington Crossing the Delaware" by Emanuel Leutze

On Seeing Larry Rivers' Washington Crossing the Delaware at the Museum of Modern Art
by Frank O'Hara

George Washington Crossing the Delaware
by Kenneth Koch

View Image Detail 4-B: "Benjamin Franklin" by Hiram Powers

How to get Riches
The Busy-man's Picture
by Benjamin Franklin

View Image Detail 5-A: "View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow" by Gilbert Stuart

Above the Oxbow
by Sylvia Plath

<a data-cke-saved-href="http://picturingamerica.neh.gov/show_fullscreen.php?item=5b_1&desc=Cover%20illustration%20for%20The%20Last%20of%20the%20Mohicans" href="http://picturingamerica.neh.gov/show_fullscreen.php?item=5b_1&desc=Cover%20illustration%20for%20The%20Last%20of%20the%20Mohicans" "="" target="_blank">View Image Detail5-B: "The Last of the Mohicans" by N. C. Wyeth

The Song of Hiawatha
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

View Image Detail 6-A: "American Flamingo" by John James Audubon

John James Audubon
by Stephen Vincent Benét

Audubon: a Vision
by Robert Penn Warren

Flamingo Watching
by Kay Ryan

View Image Detail 6-B: "Catlin Painting the Portrait of Mah-to-toh-pa—Mandan" by George Catlin

I Will Fight No More Forever
by Chief Joseph

View Image Detail 8-A: "Looking Down Yosemite Valley" by Albert Bierstadt

Exit, Pursued by a Sierra Meadow
by Robert Hass

View Image Detail 9-A: "The Veteran in a New Field" by Winslow Homer

by John Clare

by Robert Frost

by William Carlos Williams

View Image Detail 9-B: "Abraham Lincoln" by Alexander Gardner

When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd
by Walt Whitman

View Image Detail 10-A: "Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial" by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Boston Common
by John Berryman

For the Union Dead
by Robert Lowell

An Ode in Time of Hesitation
by William Vaughn Moody

View Image Detail 10-B: Quilts: 19th through 20th Centuries

by Nikki Giovanni

View Image Detail 11-B: "Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room" by James McNeill Whistler

The Peacock Room
by Robert Hayden

View Image Detail 12-B: "Allies Day, May 1917" by Childe Hassam

The Waste Land
by T. S. Eliot

View Image Detail 13-A: "Brooklyn Bridge" by Walker Evans

To Brooklyn Bridge
by Hart Crane

Granite and Steel
by Marianne Moore

View Image Detail 14-B: "Brooklyn Bridge" by Joseph Stella

Brooklyn Bridge
by Vladimir Mayakovsky

The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus

View Image Detail 15-A: "American Landscape" by Charles Sheeler

by Carl Sandburg

View Image Detail 17-A: "The Migration of the Negro Panel no. 57" by Jacob Lawrence

Theme for English B
by Langston Hughes

View Image Detail 19-A: "Freedom of Speech" by Norman Rockwell

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
by Randall Jarrell

View Image Detail 20-B: "Ladder for Booker T. Washington" by Dudley Randall

Booker T. and W.E.B.
by Dudley Randall

Related Reading 

Notes on Ekphrasis
by Alfred Corn
"Ekphrasis (also spelled "ecphrasis") is a direct transcription from the Greek ... and seems originally to have been used as a rhetorical term designating a passage in prose or poetry that describes something."

Ekphrasis: Poetry Confronting Art
Discover the history of early ekphrastic poems, including works by Homer and Virgil.

Writing Exercise: Write an Ekphrastic Poem
A generative writing exercise to inspire engagement with ekphrastic poetry.

Explore Poetry & Art
Browse articles exploring the overlaps between poetry and the visual arts.

Free Verse Project
Hundreds of participants recast their favorite lines of poetry in the most unusual places.

More Ekphrastic Poems 

The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden

The Painting by Jon Balaban

War Photograph by Kate Daniels

The Family Photograph by Vona Groarke

Museum Guard by David Hernandez

The Mad Potter by John Hollander

Messieur Degas Teaches Art and Science at Durfy Intermediate School, Detroit 1942
by Philip Levine

Ode to a Grecian Urn by John Keats

Die Muhle Brennt—Richard
by Richard Matthews

Photograph of People Dancing in France
by Leslie Adrienne Miller

Why knowing is (& Matisse's Woman with a Hat) by Martha Ronk

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
by William Carlos Williams

Stealing The Scream by Monica Youn

Joseph Cornell, with Box by Michael Dumanis

Submit Additions 

Do you have ideas for other poems related to the Picturing America artworks? Email [email protected] with your suggestions and feedback.