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Lesson Plan

Traditional and Contemporary Poetry

Lesson Objective

To allow students to comprehend the difference between contemporary poetry and formal poetry by assigning them to write a traditional and contemporary poem on the same picture in the Freestyle mode of


Traditional poetry is more strict in its form. The sonnet, ode, blank verse, ballad, dramatic monologue each have formal elements that poets follow. For example, the sonnet is a 14-line poem in iambic pentameter with a set rhyme scheme. William Shakespeare, John Milton, John Donne, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and John Keats wrote traditional poetry, among others. Below is a traditional poem:

On the Sea

It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often 'tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be mov'd for days from where it sometime fell,
When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.
Oh ye! who have your eye-balls vex'd and tir'd,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;
Oh ye! whose ears are dinn'd with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody—
Sit ye near some old Cavern's Mouth, and brood
Until ye start, as if the sea-nymphs quir'd!

–John Keats 1819

What is Contemporary Poetry?

Contemporary poetry is difficult to define as it is a plane that is being built while in flight, but there are some fundamental characteristics of contemporary poetry that distinguish it from traditional poetry:

Contemporary poetry is most often written in free verse (unrhymed lines). The lines follow the natural rhythms of the language and not the strict five stresses per line in iambic pentameter.

Contemporary poetry is written in language that is accessible to the common reader.

Contemporary poetry suggests ideas rather than overtly stating ideas.

Contemporary poetry is brief in comparison to traditional poetry.

Contemporary poetry is grounded in the image.

Contemporary poetry invites the reader to complete statements, offer conclusions, and extract meaning. The meaning of the contemporary poem exists more in the mind of the reader than in accessing the mind of the poet.

Below is a contemporary poem that is brief, unrhymed, suggestive, grounded in imagery, and written in common, accessible language:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

–Wendell Berry

Student Assignment

  • For any picture on, write a traditional poem like the one modeled above by employing both rhyme scheme and meter in your poem in the Freestyle mode.
  • For any picture on, write a contemporary poem like the one modeled above by writing in free verse, images, and incomplete statements in the Freestyle mode.