Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Poetry Break: Biographical Poem

Introduction: When I was in grade school in New Jersey, our class took a field trip to a Civil War era house that had been a station for the Underground Railroad. I still remember looking down into that small hole in amazement and wondering what kind of life a person would be escaping from to be willing to hide in such a tiny, dank hole in the ground. When slaves were ready to escape, they’d hang a quilt outside their slave quarters, and that night, as the other slaves heard a whippoorwill call from the fields beyond, they would silently bid farewell to the soon-to-be ex-slave escaping with Harriet Tubman. Harriet and her followers would follow the North Star, which was part of the Big Dipper constellation – slaves referred to this as the Drinking Gourd.

That same history unit, I learned more about Harriet Tubman and her amazing life. Her part of the Underground Railroad was the path from Maryland to Philadelphia. Harriet was never caught and neither were any of the slaves she led to freedom, despite frequent episodes of narcolepsy caused by a beating inflicted during her slavery childhood. That same beating created a large indentation in the side of her head, so she always covered it with a head scarf.

The Whippoorwill Calls
By Beverly McLoughland

No one hears her
Through the woods
At night
For she is like
A whippoorwill
Moving through the trees
On silent wings.

No one sees her
In the woods
By day
For she is like
A whippoorwill
Blending into leaves
On the forest floor.

And one night
The whippoorwill calls
And the warm air
Carries the haunting sound
Across the fields
And into the small dark cabins.

And only the slaves know
It is Harriet.

(From LIVES: POEMS ABOUT FAMOUS AMERICANS selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Harper Collins Publishers 1999)

1. Integrate social studies and math by having your students look up the average walking pace of a human, then. Look up the map of Harriet’s route and calculate how many miles it is, then estimate how many days it would take to walk from Maryland to Philadelphia along that path.
2. Integrate social studies and art by showing students various websites and images of Underground Railroad quilts. Provide drawing materials and graph paper for students to design their own quilt blocks. Or you can use the interactive website, " Make Your Own Secret Quilt Message."
3. Performance and Poetry – Have your students act out this poem. There are also other poems about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad that lend themselves well to performance, such as “Harriet Tubman” by Eloise Greenfield and the folksong, “Follow the Drinking Gourd.”

graphic from: Accessed 3/25/2009

No comments:

Post a Comment