Lessons on Teaching Tone & Mood in Poetry
Mood in poetry is the overall emotional tone that pervades a section of or the whole poem, directing the reader's expectations toward the nature of the course of events in the poem. The mood of a poem creates an atmosphere of fear, happiness or other emotions that the reader deciphers and factors into the meaning found in the poetry.
An exercise for students to recognize tone and mood in poetry is to have them perform scansion for several poems, then cite the evidence for the mood they have detected in the poem. Scansion is a method of reading to decipher the metrical patterns in a poem, such as rhyme, meter and versification. After they have done a scansion of a poem, have the students pick out thematic evidence from the plot of the poem that either agrees or contrasts with their findings from the scansion.
Example 1: Selection from "Hamlet"
Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is a great choice for teaching a lesson on poetry with a fearful or ominous tone. Choose the opening lines in Act 1, Scene 1 for students to analyze. The characters of the two sentinels discuss the sighting of the ghost of Hamlet's father, and this sets the tense and fearful mood that follows throughout the play. Ask the students to pick out certain words and lines that foreshadow the dark atmosphere of the drama.
Example 2: Selection From "The Hunting of the Snark"
Pick a section of Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark" to teach students how rhyme and meter are as important as diction for setting the mood of a poem. "The Hunting of the Snark" is a satirical poem of nonsensical adventure. The bouncing meter of the verse and the "a-b-a-b' rhyme scheme of the quatrains alert the reader to the light and funny mood of the poem. Note that the silliness of the poem's narrator accords with the mood set in the versification.
Example 3: "Christabel"
Samuel Taylor Coleridge's long poem "Christabel" is a good example of a poem with a mysterious and frightening mood. The plot contains elements of the supernatural in its medieval setting featuring a castle, forest and a mysterious female character. Use this poem to show how setting factors in to determining the mood of a poem. Select certain imagery pertaining to coldness or mystery to teach how the mood and tone of a poem can be represented both literally and figuratively.
- "Hamlet"; William Shakespeare, Ed. A. R. Braunmuller; 2001
- Literature.org, The Online Literature Library: The Hunting of the Snark, Fit the First - The Landing
- "The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period", Christabel; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; 2006
Jessica Sharpe has been writing since 2003. Her work has appeared in several McGill University publications, including the "Scrivener Creative Review" and "The Channel". Sharpe has also written for the Montreal culture blog She Does the City and has experience as a copywriter. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from McGill University.