For each poem, complete the “Story of My Reading” process as described below. As you think about and interpret the poems, remember to use evidence or parts of the poem to support your ideas.

  1. [10 minutes] Read the poem 3 times.
    1. Write the story of your reading of the poem— about a paragraph or two— each time you read. (*See bottom of this post for an example of what this looks like.)
    2. At the end, write any questions you still have about the poem.  
  2. [7 minutes] share what you wrote with your table. Discuss the questions you and others have.
  3. Rate your understanding on a scale of 1 to 10
  4. Identify the questions you are still asking (notice we are focusing on what we don’t understand rather than what we do. Socrates: “I don’t have more answers, I have more questions.”)
  5. [3 minutes] Answer the following question for the poem (in your WN, can work as a group): How does the individual in the poem relate to the world or to society?


Emily Dickinson Poems

I heard a Fly buzz— when I died— (591) (1862)
by Emily Dickinson

I heard a Fly buzz — when I died —
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air —
Between the Heaves of Storm —

The Eyes around —  had wrung them dry —
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset — when the King
Be witnessed — in the Room —

I willed my Keepsakes —  Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable — and then it was
There interposed a Fly —

With Blue — uncertain —  stumbling Buzz —
Between the light — and me —
And then the Windows failed — and then
I could not see to see —


The Soul selects her own Society — (303) (1862)
by Emily Dickinson

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —


I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)
by Emily Dickinson

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –  
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –  
To an admiring Bog!

Much Madness is divinest Sense – (620)
by Emily Dickinson

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –


This was written on a poem that you haven’t read– so look instead at the process of the “Story of My Reading” rather than the content. What do I understand or not understand with each reading? How does my understanding develop? What kinds of questions do I ask? Hopefully this example will give you an idea of what you are expected to write for the poems above. 

At first reading I thought this poem was just about learning to swim. Parents are taking a hands off approach— something like the opposite of helicopter parenting. When I got to the line about the mother drowning in the water, it made me think that it was metaphorical.

Second reading cleared up some confusion, but generated some more because I was rereading the poem in light of what I thought the meaning was the first time. The second read through helped me to refine my meaning or thoughts. I noted that it was as if the parents are letting go and letting the kid figure it out. But who is the instructor? Are the parents the “we”? Why is the water helpless?

The third read through helped to clarify a line or two— the “it is with our skill/We live in what kills us” lines. It made me think that we dwell in places that are harmful to us all the time, but we don’t die because we learn how to cope with them, so even though it might seem cruel, the parents are trying to help the kid learn. I came to this conclusion partly because I put myself in the position of the parents. It was easy to put myself there because it’s addressed to a “you”, and I am a parent.

Why is the water helpless? Who is the instructor? Why is it the thin air the mother is drowning in?

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