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I plan to major in economics based largely on the strength of this course.  I also applied for a full-tuition + yearly stipend academic scholarship in economics at a top university... [and] I ended up getting the scholarship.  Before my senior year, my knowledge of economics pretty much went as far as a rudimentary understanding of supply and demand.

Poetry writing in AP Lit

AP English Literature, Maya Inspektor


Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, by Peter Breughel the Elder

 While most of the postry assignments in AP Lit revolve around poetry analysis, sometimes my students get a chance to craft poetry themselves-- and when they do, the results are often extraordinary. In this showcase, I'd like to share a sample "Morning Message" that I posted in my AP Lit class and a few of my students' creative responses to this message. Note: I post Morning Messages each day in my classes, and these messages usually involve some kind of instruction and a task to complete. (Some messages are heavy on instruction, while others, like this one, emphasize the response.) Most Morning Messages require less extensive responses than this one, but I thought these responses were something special. Enjoy!

MORNING MESSAGE Feb. 2-- Alluding to the fall of Icarus


Posted by Mrs. Inspektor on February 04 2013 at 01:26:57:


Good morning!

First, a brief summary of this brief chapter in Perrine's Lit:

Chapter 8: Allusion

Allusion: a reference to something in history or previous literature. (I would add to this that allusions can also allude to works of art and mythology.) As the example of Lord Chesterfield's allusion to Joshua shows, an allusion can imply much in few words. On page 779: "Allusions are a means of reinforcing the emotion or the ideas of one's own work with the emotion or ideas of another work or occasion."

Sometimes, the meaning of an allusion only works when the allusion is understood by readers, while at other times the meaning merely enriches meaning that is already clear.

I would add: as you can see from this chapter, the most common allusions in literature are either to Shakespeare or the Bible. Familiarity with both will serve you well! But as Perrine's Lit says, "obviously, beginning readers will not have this range, just as they will not know the meanings of as many words as will more experienced readers. Students should therefore be prepared to look up certain allusions, just as they should look up in their dictionaries the meanings of unfamiliar words. They will find that every increase in knowledge broadens their base for understanding both literature and life" (781).


You already analyzed one poem referring to the fall of Icarus (the poem portraying Icarus in the suburbs from a past exam prompt). Today, I'd like you to consider two poems that allude to a painting by Peter Brueghel about the myth of the fall of Icarus. View the painting and read the story of the myth first. (By the way, you'll notice that each poem and some of the links spell Brueghel's name differently. Brueghel himself seems to have used a range of spellings, much like Shakespeare: Then consider two poems responding to the myth.

After you have studied all of the items above, complete one the two following responses (or both, if you wish):

Option 1: Analysis

Compare and contrast Auden´s and Williams´s poems about Brueghel´s painting. Your tone can be informal, closer to a journal entry than a formal essay or DQ. Your response should be at least 400 words. I do want you to make sure that you respond to the following questions in your response:

--What seems to be the main point of each poem? What outlook on life to they each express?
--How do the two poems deal differently with their placement of the painting? (In other words, do they spotlight the painting or do they allude to it in passing?)
--Do they give similar or different views of the painting? Do they seem to twist the painting´s meaning or express it accurately?
--What kinds of irony do you see in each poem?
--How would you compare the tone of the two poems?
--What do you notice about the diction of the two poems?
--What kinds of imagery and figurative language do you see in the two poems?
--What is your overall impression of the two poems? Which do you think was more effective? Which did you find easier to understand? Which did you find more meaningful? Why?

Option 2: Creative

Write your own free verse (i.e., non-rhyming, with few rules) poem that responds to Brueghel´s painting. If you wish, you can also allude to Williams´s or Auden´s poems. What meaning do you see in the painting? What aspect of the painting would you focus on? Will you take a stance that is similar or different to the responses of Williams and Auden? How might you connect this painting and this myth to modern life? Is the myth of Icarus still meaningful? Important: after your poem, include a paragraph or so about your experience writing this poem and the choices that you made in writing this poem. By the way, you can avoid white space between lines if you click on the "HTML" button below and change the <p> codes to <br> for certain lines.

Congratulations for taking the risk of posting original poetry! I very much hope that a few of you will take this plunge and make this attempt.


I look forward to seeing what you choose! Please write either "Option 1" or "Option 2" in the subject line of your reply.

Mrs. Inspektor

Here are some of my students' "Option 2" responses to this message, shared with their permission. I hope you enjoy reading their poems as much as I did! 

From Amber E.

Golden was the white

Frozen, paused,

Hesistant, slight


The creeping fire

Lava of its own kind

Behind lemon-laced clouds,

Our sun, the girl would find


She wanted to soar

and go her own way

To experience, by herself,

with no one keeping her in bay


Darling and dainty

Still sticky - painted wings

A gift from her father

Who loved her more than a moon's silvery tinge


But the sun was too near

And her flight far too bright

They dripped - tired

She danced in that air

Danced, tearing, right up to its

white, foamy tide grabbed--


Enveloped, the lava-haze vanished from her sight

Nipping, inviting wave palms

Snatching her into shimmery, 

Murderous -- 


Out of sight


...Okay, I'm going to edit this this week sometime.  I feel the layout of it is rough... Sometimes it's really rhymy and other times way weird with no musicality.  I want to fix that.  Still... I really had fun with this poem.  I imagined this absolutely gorgeous sky i saw the other day driving home from play rehearsal.  I didn't have a camera to capture the view and was sorely disappointed.  But hey... It made me remember it and write about it. :)  Also, when I saw the painting, the sun and the sky was similar to the sky I had fallen in love with the other day, so I specifically got inspired to flesh it out in words from that.  I just feel that, to me, Icarus is about a person forgetting to adhere to directions -- about a person who disobeys.  I know it's about more than that, but that's one caveat that especially sticks out to me.  In the painting, i love how the two legs appear to be tearing about in the waves, viciously... A terror-filled dance with the waves almost.  No one sees this dance though, and the body is soon enveloped... Cast into the depths.  Anywho, this painting was very... vivid.  I liked it. :)  /ends stream of conscious/ 


From Sarah K.

Maybe a great intrepid sun-seeker never really fell at all.

Maybe ripples only pulsed for a second

Swelling to anxious life, but, 

Wider, weaker, dimmer

Gravity is a quick healer

Gluing everything back over

--what was it again--

a stick? a stone?


At the least it was waste!

At worst, a waist.

But don't worry! 

We're all still here, see?

Plowman, shepherd, sailor, priest;

Check check, check check check!

Plowman's complaint: I am vastly underpayed.

Shepherd: your flock fares well, I count 99 safe at bay.

Captain's log: Rather large splash on the port side,

Suspect it was a stowaway come to his senses.

Priest mumbling:

Lord bless the sinner,

and bless all who receive these ashes.


****THE WRITING OF THIS LITTLE POEM....was super fun actually! I tried hard to make it be GOOD, and I spend about 40 minutes altogether. It was really nice to write. I tried to wrap in a lot of the things I sawin the painting: mainly, the priest at the bottom (took me a while to see him!), the plowman, the ship sailing off to the horizon, and the shepherd tending his flock. I tried to include a bit of symbolism with the "99 sheep" and such. Also, the prayer at the end is a catholic blessing (ps I'm not catholic though) that doesn't work at all in context but makes sense in the artistic bounds of the poem and the grander scope of what I'm trying to say. Icarus was BURNED after all, so the ashes part was cool to me. Hope it makes sense! I liked this assignment a lot. Even though my poem really only makes sense in light of the painting, which I don't like.....I still loved writing it.

From Alexandria S.

The walkers walk

The ploughers plough

The fishers wait


The talkers talk

The speakers speak

Then slow down


The earth's turn has been interrupted

A silent ceremony for the foolish

Only accessed by the ocean and its secrets


Once it swallows, life begins again

Where the speakers and talkers blab, the walkers walk to nowhere, the ploughers stab the crust and the

Fishers wait


I like it. :) I wrote it in 10 minutes, and I tried to deviate the attention away from Icarus. 


From Rose C.

"In the midst of death

we are in life" – I once wrote

a character saying; and this was what I meant

for her to say: little boys still want to play in the snow

even when tragedies are unfurling upstairs in the castle –

but outside the story's edges it's still true

that next to the direst things

plowing happens, sailing happens,

the sun still sets (or rises?) over the brink of the sea.


"The worst does happen; it just happens rarely enough

to put you off your guard" – another of my protagonists

has quipped flatly,

talking of her brother's (unfair, unexpected) fate,

and that, too, applies:

in war you might expect a death,

in times of epic deeds,

but seriously?

In the middle of plowing? In the middle of

a boat race?

Must you?


It spoils the story.


- Forgettting, of course,

that Icarus never asked for it either,

that part of the curse of our laden Earth

is that all stories must be spoiled in some similar way eventually.

But here's the wonder of it; we know it isn't forever,

and maybe that's why life is in the habit of

continuing on –

because the billowing sail in the wind

and the curve of the plow along the ground

and the fleece of the new lambs

are, in themselves, a defiance of death,

and the sun still sets (or rises?) over the brink of the sea.




The feeling I got from the painting and the poems about it reminded me a little of a line from a story I wrote recently, so that made its way into the first stanza, complete with a description of why my narrator said it. I decided to repeat the motif by quoting another character of mine in the second stanza. I started out only emphasizing the incongruity of the life/death juxtaposition, but then wanted to point out something else about it than just that it was incongruous - so I remembered something else I try to use in my writing: dire occurances ought to fit in with the rest of the situation, otherwise they can seem unfair. So I tried to capitalize on that in the poem - and then realized that, to some extent, the continuance of life is a triumph of sorts.

Another thing that struck me about the painting was that I couldn't tell if the sun were rising or setting, so I tried to bring that into the poem! It seemed like a good metaphor for the continuing of life. The sun might be setting for some people at the same time as it is rising for others.

I liked this assignment very much. :)





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