Marilyn Nelson: A Wreath for Emmett Till

I have read a wide range of poems in my life.  Many poems hold special meaning for me and hold a special place in my heart like Birches  by Frost, The Raven

by Poe, or To This Day


by Koyczan.

 Marilyn Nelson’s A Wreath for Emmett Till has become one of my favorites — in a few readings — that I look forward to sharing with my students in my classroom as we discuss the Civil Rights Movement.   To be honest, I had no idea of the history and I look forward to enriching my students knowledge of the events leading up to the Civil Rights Movement.  This poem has a ton to teach students and seems to be a great way of sneaking poetry into reading and discussion.  I say sneak because it is so well written that most of my students would not likely notice it as a poem until I would call attention to some of the poetic devices used.  As a poem in and of itself there are countless lessons students could study from iambic pentameter to rhyme scheme, but the poem has too many life long learning opportunities to shelve as being only for the discussion of poetry although there is clear justification for solely using it in a creative writing classroom.

A Wreath For Emmett Till

Students have several opportunities to grow as human beings simply by discussion of the poem.  Why would Emmett’s mother want an open casket?  This one question could lead to debate, argument, research, emotional response, empathy, more questions, and a probable thousand other outcomes from which each student could learn a great deal.

This poem could also lead to discussion about the very concept of America and the global and internal perspectives of our country.  All of this could happen without ever analyzing the several allusions within the poem.  I am very excited to share this poem with my students and hope that they will allow it to impact them as much as it has impacted me.


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