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Power in Literature: Poetry

The power of love as seen through poetry.

At some point, you've probably seen a romantic comedy where the hero won back the object of his affection by writing her a poem. But would it have worked out as well for the hero if he'd written, say, an email? We don't think so. For some reason, love longings go over better when they're written in verse, which is probably why everybody from W.B. Yeats to Huey Lewis and the News have used the poetry genre to express them. In this course, you'll read poetry by both of these greats, along with the work of William Blake, Pablo Neruda and...U2.

Never thought you'd see a lit course where Romantic-era poets would share the stage with eighties pop gods? Well now you have, and it's all in the name of demystifying the power of love. Why does it make our stomach do flip-flops and our brains turn to mush? Why are we able to move mountains for it one day, and spend the whole day under the covers the next? And when it comes time to spill all the deets on the power of love, why do so many people choose poetry as their weapon of choice? Find out here, in our Power in Literature course on poetry.

The Power in Literature Series

Have you ever wondered what makes you keep turning the pages of the latest page-turner? Why those "Happy Anniversary" Hallmark cards come with cheesy love poems inside? Or maybe you're curious about why, when you get on the internet to find out how tall Tom Cruise is (because he looks really short next to Katie Holmes, and she wasn't even wearing heels), you emerge three hours later an expert on the mating habits of ducks. What gives language in all its forms—whether prose, poetry, or on a web page—its power to entertain, persuade, and make us lose all sense of time and decency?

Shmoop's Power in Literature nano-series investigates this question by taking apart some literature genres—short stories, poems, nonfiction, and web reading—to figure out what makes them go. Each twelve-lesson, fully Common Core-aligned course for grades 9–10 introduces students to the basic nuts and bolts of the genre. And just to make things really interesting, we look at the power of money, love, freedom, and fame while we're doing it.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. That's the Power of Love (Poetry)

This nano course is a crash course in poetry, all viewed through the theme of the power of love. The poems we'll examine will run the gamut from Burns to Blake to Yeats to Neruda, and we'll learn the basics of poetry—diction, connotation, imagery, meter, and more—while we're at it.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 3: U2 Can Rock Diction

Diction matters. Even when you're writing in cuneiform.


As you can tell from your survey results yesterday, it really does matter which words you choose "Yo, 'sup bro?" and "Hello there. How are you?" might mean pretty much the same thing, but you wouldn't really use them interchangeably. (Well, unless you're Ryan Lochte. But Shmoop's really committed to the theory that you're not.) Here's another look at that same idea, from the TV show "Friends."

Diction's important whether you're writing a letter or the next great American novel.

But when you're working with something as short as a poem, it's even more important. Every single word counts. There are just so few of them. Most poets sweat and toil over every single one, so you'd better believe that each word in a poem was chosen to be there. As you now know, that selection process—the word choices that an author makes—is called diction.

To determine diction and locate words with specific connotation, we have to go through works line-by-line and word-by-word, teasing out why exactly those were the words that were chosen.

If it sounds painstaking, that's because it is. But it's also totally worth it. Don't believe us? Today might change your mind.