Chapter Three Poems and Songs

Quite a lot of pupils have a negative view of poetry. They say it is boring, but they might only mean it is difficult.

If the poetry lesson really is boring, then the explanation is probably that:

  1. the poem is not appropriate for the pupils’ interests or competence
  2. the teacher is not using the poem well
  3. both of the above

In our selection of poems we have tried to demystify poetry yet underline the fact that our texts can and do convey a serious message.

Poetry, and especially song lyrics, can also give us an opportunity to let pupils suggest texts. I have occasionally found that even adult learners have not really understood the song they have come to class with. One man came with what he thought was a love song. It turned out to be a young woman talking about a violent boyfriend. Occasionally pupils have suggested songs because they want help to understand the lyrics. I believe it is useful to get pupils more interested in the lyrics of songs they like, for several reasons.

I Wanna Be a Star

This is obviously not great poetry, but it is a useful starting point. We can talk about features such as rhyme, rhythm and repetition, and the fact that the poet has used a non-standard word (“wanna”), which is a good choice here, but not in a formal text.

Most pupils understand how the last two words (“So far”) change the tone of the poem from what might have sounded like resignation to optimism and belief in the future.

If I can stop one heart from breaking


The speaker in this poem comes across as a tragic individual, who steals more for excitement than for profit. However, he is aware of the grief and disruption he causes in his victims’ lives, and seems to take some pleasure in it.

His frustration at not being able to reassemble the snowman properly hints at a higher ambition, as does his idea of learning to play the stolen guitar, which of course comes to nothing.

The speaker asks if we understand, and he has given us some hints:

“the slice of ice within my own brain”
“Better off dead than giving in”
“Part of the thrill was knowing that children would cry in the morning”
“Boredom. Mostly I’m so bored I could eat myself.”

It seems that “life’s tough”, and the only way he can be noticed is if he makes other people’s lives tough, at least for a while.

Dear Mr President

This song is an open letter to former President George W. Bush. In it Pink criticises Bush for doing too little to solve the social problems she sees. She wonders how he can sleep at night, and what makes him so indifferent. Pink reminds him that he, too, once had problems, but “has come a long way” thanks to help he was given (reading between the lines).

Born in the USA

Many pupils recognise the song after listening to the first few seconds, but very few know what it is actually about. When given the choice between it being positive or negative, happy or sad, almost everyone goes for “positive”.

The song says something about the singer’s life from birth to adulthood, and in this way opens the door to a variety of creative writing tasks.

This Be the Verse

Despite the fact that it contains the f-word, this poem has been used in the written examination and is also a very popular poem in Britain.

Philip Larkin’s tone is bitter and quite pessimistic with regard to parenting. Fortunately, though, most people disagree with his conclusion.

Message in a Bottle

The speaker in this song is a lonely man who “sends a message in a bottle” to the world hoping to find companionship. It turns out that he is far from being the only person with this problem, and with this solution.

Here is a true story about a lonely man who used modern technology to find companions. But how risky is this sort of approach?

Not Waving but Drowning

At first sight it may seem that this short poem is about a tragic drowning accident. However, in the third and final verse we understand that the dead man had been “drowning” all his life, but because he put on a brave face to hide his problems, his friends thought everything was all right with him.

I Hear America Singing

This is one of Walt Whitman’s most well-known poems. It says something about the pleasure and satisfaction that work can bring, and how it enriches our lives.

Literary Terminology – poetry

It is true that this type of terminology is not mentioned specifically in the curriculum, but some pupils will know it from their Norwegian lessons, or elsewhere. Depending on your pupils’ language competence and interest, you may decide to use this, or not.

Here are some expressions we use to describe poetry (and prose).


This is when words start with the same sound. You’ll also find this used in advertising and newspaper headlines.

The slippery snake came sliding down.
Liverpool looked lively but lost to Manchester City.


A simile is when we say that something is like something else.

His heart was as hard and unfeeling as a block of ice.
I was so tired my feet were like pieces of lead.
Love is so powerful, it’s like unseen flowers under your feet
as you walk.
Bessie Head


A metaphor is when we compare something to something else, but without using “as” or “like”.

Life is a journey, and the choices we make are crossroads.
You are the sunshine of my life.


Symbolism is when something stands for something else. A rose symbolises love.

Exaggeration and understatement

Dramatic irony

This gives a result that was the opposite of what was expected.


Pathos evokes a feeling of pity or sympathy.

“Born in the USA” illustrates several of these terms.

© Fagbokforlaget | Kanalveien 51 | 5068 Bergen | Ordretelefon: 55 38 88 38 | Ordrefaks: 55 38 88 39 | | Cookies | Personvern