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Literature and Poetry
Walt Whitman holding a butterfly on his finger
[Detail] Walt Whitman.
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Teach your children poetry; it opens the mind, lends grace to wisdom and makes the heroic virtues hereditary.
~ Sir Walter Scott

Great Literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.
~ Ezra Pound

primary source set

This Primary Source Set includes images, newspaper articles, written drafts, oral history interviews and original play manuscripts to help teach a found poetry activity.

online resources
Especially for Teachers...

American Life in Poetry - (Collaborative Project) This free weekly column for newspapers and online publications features a poem by a contemporary American poet and a brief introduction to the poem by Poet Laureate Ted Kooser.

American Treasures: Shakespeare in America - (Exhibition) View Shakespeare related treasures in this online exhibition.

Benjamin Franklin: In His Own Words - (Exhibition) Learn about Benjamin Franklin's public, professional, and scientific accomplishments through important documents, letters, books, broadsides, and cartoons. The Printer and Writer section highlights Franklins literary talents.

Blessed Ted-fred: Famous Fathers Write to Their Children - (The Source) Even the youngest children can experience the fun of working with primary sources using such gems from American Memory as letters written by Theodore Roosevelt and Alexander Graham Bell to their children.

Center for the Book - (Center for the Book) The Center for the Book was established in 1977 to use the resources and prestige of the Library of Congress to promote books, reading, libraries, and literacy.

Century of Creativity: The MacDowell Colony 1907-2007, A - (Exhibition) Learn about the history of this creative sanctuary to artists, writers and composers. Thornton Wilder and James Baldwin were among the many writers who spent time at the MacDowell Colony.

Cybercasts From the Library - (Cybercast) These Library of Congress cybercasts were sponsored by the Center for the Book and feature authors, journalists, historians and biographers.

Favorite Poem Project - (Poetry and Literature) Robert Pinsky, the 39th Poet Laureate of the United States, founded this project promoting poetry's role in Americans' lives.

Featured Digital Materials from the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection - (Rare Books) Explore the pages of several of William Blake's works as well as the 1524 Book of Hours and Mercator's 1595 atlas.

Finding the Heart in History: Making Connections Through Poetry - (Learning Page Activity) In this activity, students analyze primary source documents from the Library of Congress, then share their understanding through the illustrated poetry they create.

Found Poetry and the American Life Histories Collection - (The Source) Middle school teachers find the interviews in the American Life Histories to be rich resources for creating found poetry.

Gender Issues, Race Relations, and Pastimes - (The Source) Students examine play scripts, baseball cards, sheet music, and more in this lesson developed by Claire McCaffery Griffin.

Guide to Harlem Renaissance Materials, A - (Library of Congress Bibliography) This online guide presents the Library's resources as well as links to external Web sites on the Harlem Renaissance

Guide to Poetry and Literature Webcasts - (Library of Congress Bibliography) Use this guide as a resource for locating streaming video of poets, fiction writers, and critics as they read and discuss their own and each other's work.

Hamlet - "To be or not to be, that is the question" - (Prints and Photographs) View an 1870 photograph of Edwin Booth in costume as Hamlet. Search the catalog using the term - Shakespeare - for additional images. Note: Some images may not enlarge outside the Library of Congress.

Harlem Renaissance and the Flowering of American Creativity, The - (Special Presentation) Learn about the Harlem Renaissance in this section of the African American Odyssey exhibition.

Harold Bloom: Shakespeare and Genius - (Cybercast) In this presentation, based on three of his published books, literary critic Bloom discusses Shakespeare and Genius.

Heavenly Craft: The Woodcut in Early Printed Books, A - (Exhibition) Explore a sampling of woodcut-illustrated books from the Lessing J. R. Rosenwald Collection.

Illuminating the Word: the St. John's Bible - (Exhibition) This exhibition is devoted to a single work of art, an illuminated, handwritten Bible commissioned by Saint John's University and Abbey in Minnesota.

Invitation to the Goode Peoples of our City to a Mid-Summer Celebration, An - (Library of Congress Live) Use this bibliography and teaching guide to learn more about celebrations, customs and manners during the time of Shakespeare.

John Bull and Uncle Sam: Common Language, Separate Voices - (Exhibition) Compare British and American literature across four centuries. Scroll down this page to read several Shakespeare related entries.

Langston Hughes and His Poetry - (Cybercast) View a webcast of David Kresh, Library of Congress Reference Specialist in Poetry, Humanities and Social Sciences, discussing Langston Hughes and his poetry.

Language of the Land: Journeys Into Literary America - (Exhibition) This exhibition offers an excursion into American literature through literary maps, photographs and quotations from works by American authors.

Letters About Literature - (Center for the Book) This national reading-writing contest invites students to write a personal letter to an author explaining how that author's work changed their way of thinking about the world or themselves.

Library of Congress Poetry Resources - (Library of Congress Bibliography) This site is a comprehensive guide to locating poetry resources available on the Library of Congress's web site.

Library of Congress Presents: Music, Theater, and Dance - (Performing Arts) This special presentation on Walt Whitman's poem includes a reading by Billy Collins, background information and sources for additional information.

Life Lines: The Literature of Women - (Cybercast) View the March, 2001 International Women’s Day symposium cybercast in which participants read from their works about the discrimination faced by women in various parts of the world.

Lifelong Literacy - (Special Presentation) Celebrate lifelong literacy and reading with the Library of Congress.

Literary Evening with John Prine and Ted Kooser, A - (Cybercast) Listen to the discussion between songwriter and poet as they compared and contrasted the emotional appeal of the lyrics of popular songs with the appeal of contemporary poetry.

Literature of the Spanish-American War - (International) This chapter from the online presentation - The World of 1898: The Spanish American War - covers some of the prominent authors from countries involved in the war. Stephen Crane, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain are featured American authors. Entries include information on how their lives and works related to the war, lists of their major works, and relevant excerpts from their writings.

Literature to Life: Zora - (Cybercast) Zora Neale Hurston was an important figure from the Harlem Renaissance. Adapted from the theatrical biography of her life by Laurence Holder, this performance brings her story to life.

Making a Statement through Song and Poetry - (Professional Development) These online workshop materials will help educators use Library of Congress primary-source materials to explore the legacy of American song and poetry in their classrooms.

National Book Festival Cybercasts - (Cybercast) View live author webcasts videocast from the 2006 National Book Festival. Categories include Children, Teens and Children, Fiction and Fantasy, Mysteries and Thrillers, History and Biography, Home and Family, and Poetry. Click on each of the past years and select "authors" for cybercasts from these events.

Native American Women Writers Discuss New Book, Sister Nations - (Cybercast) View the March, 2003 cybercast of editors and writers discussing this anthology of fiction, prose and poetry celebrating Native American women.

Other Digitized Materials From the Rare Book and Special Collections Division - (Rare Books) Explore digitized materials including early books, children's literature, miniature books, Audubon prints, magic posters and early travel accounts.

Poet and the Poem - (Poetry and Literature) Listen to a selection of audio interviews with several poets who have recorded their work at the Library of Congress.

Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry - (Poetry and Literature) Learn about Donald Hall and past Poet Laureate Consultants to the Library of Congress.

Poet Vision Video Series - (Cybercast) View cybercasts of Lucille Clifton, Rita Dove, Allen Ginsberg, Louise Glück, Sam Hamill, Michael Harper, Stanley Kunitz, and Denise Levertov reading and talking about their work.

Poetry and Literature Center - (Poetry and Literature) Explore the programs offered by the Poetry and Literature Center of the Library of Congress.

Poetry Cybercasts - (Cybercast) View a selection of poetry related cybercast presentations, some of which are sponsored by the Poetry and Literature Center.

Presidents as Poets - (Library of Congress Bibliography) Explore this guide to the poetic endeavors of U.S. presidents.

Primary Source Investigation - (Document) Use this primary source investigation strategy as a way for students to examine documents and think critically about their meaning. Themes include Civil War, reform movements, Harlem Renaissance and presidential campaigns.

Quilt as Metaphor, The - (The Source) Students explore the quilt as a metaphor used in literature to represent American values and ideals.

Read More About It! - (Center for the Book) These booklists compiled by the Center for the Book suggest companion reading to supplement the American Memory collections.

Revising Himself: Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass - (Exhibition) Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, presents Whitman's vision of America over the last half of the nineteenth century. The exhibition traces the occupations and preparations that led Whitman to evolve as a poet.

Sampler of Collection Themes: Poetry - (Special Presentation) Link to a sampling of poetry related books in the Nineteenth Century in Print: Books collection.

Shakespeare in Quarto - (Internet Resources) Link to the full text of the British Library’s 93 copies of the 21 plays by Shakespeare printed in quarto.

Song of America Teacher Institute: Making a Statement through Poetry and Song - (Special Presentation) Use Library of Congress primary source materials to explore the legacy of American song and poetry. Activities include "Poems as Historical Artifacts" and "Found Poetry."

Song of America Tour - (LOC Event) Celebrate the history of creativity in America with the LOC and Thomas Hampson on this 11 city-tour featuring concerts, exhibitions, and teacher institutes.

South Asian Literary Recordings Project - (International) This project was launched in April 2000 to record the voices of South Asian authors for the Library of Congress' Archive of Recorded World Literature.

Spaelimenenir: Pan Scandinavian Music and Storytelling - (Library of Congress Live) Use this guide to learn more about Scandinavian music, story, and dance.

Spaelimenninir: Music and Stories from Scandinavia - (Cybercast) View a performance of traditional and contemporary folk music and song from Scandinavia.

Thomas Jefferson's Library - (Exhibition) This exhibition reveals how books were vital to Thomas Jefferson’s education and well–being and how his personal library provided Jefferson with a broad knowledge of the contemporary and ancient worlds. Exhibition themes include Memory, Reason and Imagination and feature opportunities to explore pages from a selection of books in each category.

Wizard of Oz – An American Fairy Tale, The - (Exhibition) Learn the history of L. Frank Baum’s now famous story, originally published in 1909.

Zora Neale Hurston Chronology - (Special Presentation) This chronology accompanies the Zora Neale Hurston Plays collection which features ten recently discovered unpublished plays.

Zora! A Learning Guide for Teachers - (Library of Congress Live) Use this guide to learn more about Zora Neale Hurston and her role in preserving African American culture.

  Especially for your Students...

American Treasures: America’s First Book - (Exhibition) Known as The Bay Psalm Book, but really titled The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, this was the first book printed in what is now the United States.

American Treasures: Anne Bradstreet, Colonial Poet - (Exhibition) Anne Bradstreet was the first woman poet to be published in Colonial America.

American Treasures: Children's Books - (Exhibition) Explore the pages of Marmaduke Multiply, an 1839 children's book.

American Treasures: Costume Designs Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night - (Exhibition) View 1930s Federal Theater Project costume designs.

American Treasures: Literary Arts - (Exhibition) Explore literary treasures in the Imagination Gallery B of the American Treasures exhibition.

American Treasures: Popular Literature - (Exhibition) View examples of popular literature in the American Treasures exhibition.

American Treasures: Read and Be Wise - (Exhibition) The hornbook was a constant companion to beginning readers in Colonial America.

American Treasures: The Grapes of Wrath - (Exhibition) Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel traces one family's exodus from Oklahoma because of the Dust Bowl.

American Treasures: Walt Whitman and the Civil War - (Exhibition) Read about Whitman's Civil War hospital notebooks in which he took notes about the needs and wants of wounded soldiers whom he visited and comforted in the hospitals in and near Washington, D.C.

Arthur Buchwald - (Special Presentation) This Pulitzer Prize-winning satirist, who passed away on Jan. 17, 2007, shared wartime memories with the Library's Veterans History Project.

Dakota Cowboy Poetry - (Local Legacies) Cowboy poets gather and perform in North Dakota over Memorial Day weekend. Read also about the Utah Cowboy Poetry Roundup.

John Hope Franklin - (Special Presentation) Read highlights about the life and accomplishments of this contemporary African American scholar.

Jump Back in Time: April 17, 1897 (Thornton Wilder) - (America's Library) Playwright, Thornton Wilder, was born on this date.

Jump Back in Time: April 3, 1837 (John Burroughs) - (America's Library) Nature writer John Burroughs was born on this date.

Jump Back in Time: August 2, 1924 (James Baldwin) - (America's Library) Novelist, essayist, and playwright James Baldwin was born on this date.

Jump Back in Time: December 24, 1822 (Clement Moore) - (America's Library) On this date, Clement Moore is believed to have written "A Visit From Saint Nicholas".

Jump Back in Time: February 7, 1867 - (America's Library) Read about Laura Ingalls Wilder – author of the Little House series.

Jump Back in Time: February 9, 1888 (Walt Whitman) - (America's Library) Learn about O Captain! My Captain! - Walt Whitman's poem about Abraham Lincoln.

Jump Back in Time: January 19, 1809 (Edgar Allan Poe) - (America's Library) Edgar Allan Poe, master of tales of terror and the originator of the modern detective story, was born on this date.

Jump Back in Time: January 20, 1961 (Robert Frost) - (America's Library) Learn about the poem that Robert Frost read at JFK's inauguration.

Jump Back in Time: July 12, 1817 (Henry David Thoreau) - (America's Library) Philosopher, naturalist and writer, Henry David Thoreau was born on this date.

Jump Back in Time: July 21, 1899 (Ernest Hemingway) - (America's Library) Ernest Hemingway, author of The Old Man and the Sea, was born on this date.

Jump Back in Time: September 1, 1773 - (America's Library) Read about Phyllis Wheatley – the first African American to be published.

Jump Back in Time: September 24, 1896 (F. Scott Fitzgerald) - (America's Library) F. Scott Fitzgerald - author of The Great Gatsby - was born on this date.

Jump Back in Time: September 25, 1897 (William Faulkner) - (America's Library) Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, William Faulkner, was born on this date.

Meet Amazing Americans: Langston Hughes - (America’s Library) Learn about Langston Hughes -- an important writer and thinker of the Harlem Renaissance.

Meet Amazing Americans: Mark Twain - (America's Library) Learn about Samuel Langhorne Clemens - better known as Mark Twain.

Parallel Lives of Lincoln and Whitman, The - (Wise Guide) Although Lincoln and Whitman never met, they had common experiences and beliefs. Read how to find out more about their parallel lives in this article.

Poetry 180 - (Poetry and Literature) Billy Collins, Former Poet Laureate of the United States, designed this site to make it easy for students to hear or read a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year.

Rediscovering an American Playwright - (Wise Guide) Read about Zora Neale Hurston and the rediscovery of 10 of her previously unpublished plays.

Shakespeare and Genius - (Wise Guide) Although he never attended college, Shakespeare’s genius inspired him to write some of the world’s greatest plays.

Shakespeare on the Green - (Local Legacies) Nebraskans celebrate Shakespeare each summer in Omaha with a three week outdoor drama series

Shakespeare's Memorial Theater - (Prints and Photographs) View a color image of Shakespeare's Memorial Theater in Stratford-on-Avon, England.

Shakespeare's Birthplace - (Prints and Photographs) View a color photograph of Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-on-Avon, England

Stratford on Avon - (Document) Zoom into a 1908 bird’s-eye view map showing Shakespearean landmarks and other points of interest.

Today in History (April 26) Shakespeare and the Folger - (Today in History) Learn about the Folger Shakespeare Memorial Library in Washington, DC.

Today in History (July 25) Macbeth - (Today in History) Learn about the 1936 performance of Macbeth produced by John Houseman and directed by Orson Welles for the Federal Theater Project of the WPA.

Today in History Archives - (Today in History) Search the Archives using the terms “poet” , "writer", "novelist", "playwright" or "author" for literature related articles.

lesson plans

Use these lesson plans (created by educators for educators) to explore literature and poetry with your students in your classroom:

Enhancing a Poetry Unit - (Grades 7-9) Students create poetry based on the language found in Depression Era oral histories.

1900 America: Historical Voices, Poetic Visions - (Grades 10-12) Students work in groups to express themselves creatively through a multi-media epic poem.

Murder and Mayhem - The Great Gatsby: Facts Behind the Fiction - (Grade 11) Students create newspapers recording significant events and attitudes of the 1920s related to The Great Gatsby.

Civil War through A Child's Eye, The - (Grades 6-8) Students use literature and photographs to view the Civil War from a child's perspective.

Figuring Somepin 'Bout the Great Depression - (Grades 9-12) Students create a scrapbook from the point of view of a migrant worker. This lesson can be used in connection with a unit on The Grapes of Wrath.

Grapes of Wrath - Scrapbooks and Artifacts, The - (Grades 9-12) Students conduct ethnographic research to show how cultural artifacts from The Grapes of Wrath support one of the book's many themes.

Jacob Have I Loved - (Grades 6-8) Students use visual images as an introduction to Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson.

Marco Paul's Travels on the Erie Canal - (Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8) Students trace Marco Paul’s 1840s journey through the Erie Canal.

To Kill a Mockingbird - (Grades 7-12) Students are guided on a journey through the Depression Era South in the 1930s. They become familiar with Southern experiences through the study of To Kill a Mockingbird and the examination of primary sources.

Twain's Hannibal - (Grades 9-12) Using both primary source documents and print materials, students analyze life around Hannibal, Missouri, during the latter half of the 19th century to determine what effects this location had on the writings of Mark Twain. This information is integrated with the reading of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Visions in the Dust - (Grades 5-8) Students gain an understanding of Dust Bowl history through the eyes of a child, using Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust.

Sea Changes: A Study of a New England Industry - (Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12,) Students study photographs, maps and interviews with two New England fishermen of the early 20th century, construct "found poetry", and research in Thomas to understand legislation restricting the fishing industry.

Recreation Yesterday and Today - (Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12,) Students research entertainment and recreation in the early 20th century and then compare the rural experience for this time period to the national experience and to their own experience. This lesson features excerpts from From the Hidewood: Memories of a Dakota Neighborhood, a book by Robert Amerson reflecting life in Deuel County, South Dakota, during the late 1920s and 1930s.

Nothing to Fear - (Grades 5-8) Students learn what the World War II experience was like for Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. This lesson includes a poetry activity.

America Dreams - (Grades 4-12) Students complete an interdisciplinary WebQuest to learn the story of a decade in American history, as they help define the American Dream. In this lesson, students can take the role of a poet.

Thomas Jefferson’s Library: Making a Case For a National Library - (Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12,) Students examine a Thomas Jefferson letter and identify techniques he used to persuade Congress to purchase his personal library. Students then consider a selection of those books and write their own persuasive letters urging the books' purchase.


Is there a title (or two) that you always read to (or with) your students when teaching about literature and poetry? Are there invaluable reference books that you use when working with this theme? Staff from The Library of Congress have generously donated favorite titles for the Literature and Poetry theme. We hope you will contribute your favorite titles to our growing bibliography!

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collection connections

Create your own collaborative lesson plans using material related to this month's theme assembled from The Learning Page Collection Connections:

African-American Experience in Ohio, 1850-1920, Selections from the Ohio Historical Society, The - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection includes examples of oral histories, biographies, literature, poems, fables, literary reviews, humorous pieces and persuasive writing.

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) The life histories, in combination with fictional novels, can engage students in the study of themes such as loss of innocence, consequences of failure, or corruption and its consequences.

American Women: A Gateway to Library of Congress Resources for the Study of Women’s History and Culture in the United States - (Summary Only) Search this collection using the terms "author", "poet" or "literature".

American Notes: Travels in America, 1750-1920 - (Summary Only) This collection presents over 250 books documenting the travel in America. Authors include James Fenimore Cooper, William Cullen Bryant, Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920, The - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection contains 257 unpublished playscripts.

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project 1936-1938 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery.

California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection consists of the full texts and illustrations of 190 works documenting the formative era of California

Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) Explore this collection for images of authors, poets and playwrights.

Evolution of the Conservation Movement: 1850-1920, The - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection includes the writings of Mary Hunter Austin, John Muir, Ernest Thompson Seton and Henry David Thoreau.

First-Person Narratives of the American South, 1860-1920 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) The materials in this collection lend themselves to the study of American rhetoric and prose.

New Deal Stage: Selections from the Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939, The - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection contains 68 digitized Federal Theatre Project playscripts.

Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals, The - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

Nineteenth Century in Print: Books, The - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910 - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

Poet at Work: Recovered Notebooks from the Thomas Biggs Harned Walt Whitman Collection - (Summary and Teaching Resources)

Stars and Stripes: The American Soldiers' Newspaper of World War I, 1918-1919 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) Each issue contains a selection of poems.

Lewis Carroll Scrapbook Collection, The - ( Summary Only) This original scrapbook contains items collected from 1855-1872 by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll.

Zora Neale Hurston Plays, The - (Summary Only)

search terms

These terms may be useful when searching for items related to this theme in the American Memory collections.

Ballad Myths Reading
Books Names of poets Rhyme
Fable Names of playwrights Song
Fairy tales Names of authors Sonnet
Fiction Nursery rhyme Stories
Folktale Parody Tales
Legends Playwrights Tall tales
Literary map Poem Titles of books
Literary works Poet Titles of poems
Literature Poetry Verse

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Last updated 03/08/2007