15 Poems to Teach with Homer’s Odyssey

Greek shipOne of the frustrating things about teaching English is how much time we spend looking for what to teach–the timely article, the thought-provoking poem, the text that will make an idea come to life for our students.  But finding them takes time.  And the more time we spend looking for what to teach, the less time we have to think about how to teach.

I’m not saying I want to teach out of textbook, because I’ve never been that kind of a teacher. But sometimes I fantasize about a really good app–put in some facts about yourself and what you teach and out come really great companion texts.  And yes, I know about Common Lit, but I would describe it (at least currently) as “merely serviceable” rather than “really great.”  

Because when it comes down to it, matching up texts is part of the art and science of teaching English.  And it’s hard.  So one of the things I would like to use Next Time Teaching for is to share some of my ideas on companion texts and hopefully save some people time looking for what to teach.  

Let’s start with The Odyssey.  The Odyssey can be tricky because it’s already so long that you probably don’t have a lot of time to spend on related texts.  So poems can come in handy.

Poems with allusions to The Odyssey

Louise Glück is probably the author who has done this the most.  Her collection Meadowlands features many poems exploring the relationships between the characters in The Odyssey.  3 I think are best suited to the classroom:  

Four others are

Songs with allusions to The Odyssey

Understanding the time period

Two poems I like that aren’t explicitly about The Odyssey, but help students see how ideas they are probably familiar with might appear in different times and cultural settings

Other thematic connections

A few classics I wouldn’t teach

Kudos to anyone brave enough to try them, but I find these poems take too long and are too difficult for students to connect to.  

  • On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer by Keats
  • Tennyson’s Lotus Eaters
  • Tennyson’s Ulysses

Also check out 8 Non-fiction Articles to Pair with The Odyssey!

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