Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Painting Pictures with Poetry
Lesson 3
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


Students will use metaphor, simile and personification to create imagery in their writing and recognize philanthropy in poetry. The learners will also become familiar with the present Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress and his writing.


One Fifty-Five Minute Class Period


The learner will:
  • define and design his/her own metaphors and similes.

  • identify philanthropy in the famous quotations of others.


  • Poet Laureates (Attachment One)

  • Poetry of Billy Collins (Attachment Two)
Handout 1
Poet Laureates
Handout 2
Poetry of Billy Collins

Instructional Procedure(s):

Anticipatory Set:

Put this quote on the board:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Robert Frost

Have students discuss what images form in their minds as a result of this poem and what it means.

  • Put the following quotations on the board and discuss their images and messages as was done with the first quotation. If persons follow the messages of the quotations, how are they automatically acting philanthropically?

    • “Life is an exciting business, and it is most exciting when it is lived for others.” Helen Keller

    • “If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. If I touch a life, a life will touch me. If I give someone hope, hope is given to me. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree…” David Morris

    • “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Mark Twain

    • “There are only two ways of spreading light¾to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.” Edith Wharton

    • “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy

  • Explain to students that poetry often paints visual images with conventions such as metaphor, simile and personification. Define the three conventions and then use the quotes from the first activity to identify examples of metaphor, simile and personification.

    • A metaphor can be described as a figure of speech in which a thing is referred to as being something that it resembles. For example, a fierce person can be referred to as a tiger or an uncommunicative person as being as “silent as stone”. A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a comparison describing one thing as another, suggesting a likeness between them. It does not use “like” or “as.”

    • A simile is a comparison that is explicitly stated using the word “like” or “as.”

    • Personification is a figure of speech in which human qualities are attributed to an animal, object or idea.

  • Ask students if they are familiar with the quote from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Tell them that this quote inspired many young people at the time to join the Peace Corps. Give a little background on the Peace Corps and the effect that Kennedy had on the nation and young people of that time. How does Kennedy’s quote help improve the common good of a community or nation?

  • Tell students that one of Kennedy’s favorite poems was “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The quote “But I have promises to keep...” is from that poem. Explain that the author of this poem is Robert Frost and that he was the poet laureate of the United States in the 1950s.

  • Explain what a “poet laureate” is. This information is included in Poet Laureates (Attachment One). Tell the learners that our poet laureate today is Billy Collins. Either read or give examples of his poems to students and discuss them. (See Bibliographical References or use Poetry of Billy Collins, Attachment Two.)

  • Discuss the imagery found in one or two of his poems. Find examples of metaphor, simile and personification.

  • Tell students that they are to write a statement about philanthropy that uses metaphor, simile and personification. One example is: Philanthropy is a big, cuddly, stuffed bear that keeps strangers warm.


The statements about philanthropy using metaphor, simile and personification may be used as an assessment.

School/Home Connection:

  • Interactive Parent / Student Homework:
    Students are to ask their parents if they have a poem that they remember or have written. They may ask if there is a favorite song with lyrics that has meaning for them. They should ask why this poem or song is meaningful to them.

Cross-Curriculum Extensions:

Teachers may wish to consult the Library of Congress Web site for information on Billy Collins’ initiative called Poetry 180 in which students listen to a poem a day. The short poems have been selected by the Poet Laureate and are provided on the Web site.

Bibliographical References:

Lesson Developed By:

Pat Grimley
St. Charles Community Schools
Anna M. Thurston Middle School
St. Charles, MI 48655


Handout 1Print Handout 1

Poet Laureates

June 20, 2001

Librarian of Congress Appoints Billy Collins Poet Laureate

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has announced the appointment of Billy Collins to be the Library’s eleventh Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. He will take up his duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary series in October with a reading of his work. Mr. Collins succeeds Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, Howard Nemerov, Mark Strand, Joseph Brodsky, Mona Van Duyn, Rita Dove, Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky and Stanley Kunitz.

Of his appointment, Dr. Billington said, “Billy Collins’ poetry is widely accessible. He writes in an original way about all manner of ordinary things and situations with both humor and a surprising contemplative twist. We look forward to his energizing presence next year.”

Billy Collins’ books of poetry include Picnic, Lightning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998); The Art of Drowning (1995), which was a Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize finalist; Questions About Angels (1991), a National Poetry Series selection by Edward Hirsch; The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988); Video Poems (1980); and Pokerface (1977). A volume of his new and selected poems, Sailing Alone Around the Room, will be published this year by Random House.

His honors include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has also been awarded the Oscar Blumenthal Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize, the Frederick Bock Prize and the Levinson Prize–all awarded by Poetry magazine. He is a Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College, City University of New York, where he has taught for the past 30 years. He is also a writer-in-residence at Sarah Lawrence, and served as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library. He lives in Somers, New York.

Author Annie Proulx has remarked, “I have never before felt possessive about a poet, but I am fiercely glad that Billy Collins is ours–smart, his strings tuned and resonant, his wonderful eye looping over the things, events and ideas of the world, rueful, playful, warm-voiced, easy to love.”

“ Billy Collins writes lovely poems,” writes John Updike. “Limpid, gently and consistently startling, more serious than they seem, they describe all the worlds that are and were and some others besides.”

Background of the Laureateship

The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate, in order to permit incumbents to work on their own projects while at the Library. Each brings a new emphasis to the position. Allen Tate (1943-44), for example, served as editor of the Library’s publication of that period, Quarterly Journal, during his tenure and edited the compilation Sixty American Poets, 1896-1944. Some consultants have suggested and chaired literary festivals and conferences; others have spoken in a number of schools and universities and received the public in the Poetry Room.

Increasingly in recent years, the incumbents have sought to find new ways to broaden the role of poetry in our national life. Maxine Kumin initiated a popular womens’ series of poetry workshops at the Poetry and Literature Center. Gwendolyn Brooks met with groups of elementary school children to encourage them to write poetry. Howard Nemerov conducted seminars at the Library for high school English classes. Most incumbents have furthered the development of the Library’s Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in public places--supermarkets, hotels, airports, and hospitals. Rita Dove brought a program of poetry and jazz to the Library’s literary series, along with a reading by young Crow Indian poets, and a two-day conference entitled “Oil on the Waters: The Black Diaspora,” featuring panel discussions, readings and music. Robert Hass sponsored a major conference on nature writing called “Watershed,” which continues today as a national poetry competition for elementary and high school students entitled “River of Words.” Most recently, Robert Pinsky initiated his Favorite Poem Project, which energized a nation of poetry readers to share their favorite poems in readings across the country and in audio and video recordings.

Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry and their terms of service are listed below:

Joseph Auslander 1937-41
Allen Tate 1943-44
Robert Penn Warren 1944-45
Louise Bogan 1945-46
Karl Shapiro 1946-47
Robert Lowell 1947-48
Leonie Adams 1948-49
Elizabeth Bishop 1949-50
Conrad Aiken 1950-52 (first to serve two terms)
William Carlos Williams (appointed in 1952 but did not serve)
Randall Jarrell 1956-58
Robert Frost 1958-59
Richard Eberhart 1959-61
Louis Untermeyer 1961-63
Howard Nemerov 1963-64
Reed Whittemore 1964-65
Stephen Spender 1965-66
James Dickey 1966-68
William Jay Smith 1968-70
William Stafford 1970-71
Josephine Jacobsen 1971-73
Daniel Hoffman 1973-74
Stanley Kunitz 1974-76
Robert Hayden 1976-78
William Meredith 1978-80
Maxine Kumin 1981-82
Anthony Hecht 1982-84
Robert Fitzgerald 1984-85 (appointed and served in a health-limited capacity, but did not come to Library of Congress)
Reed Whittemore 1984-85 (Interim Consultant in Poetry)
Gwendolyn Brooks 1985-86
Robert Penn Warren 1986-87 (first to be designated Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry)
Richard Wilbur 1987-88
Howard Nemerov 1988-90
Mark Strand 1990-91
Joseph Brodsky 1991-92
Mona Van Duyn 1992-93
Rita Dove 1993-95
Robert Hass 1995-97
Robert Pinsky 1997-2000
Stanley Kunitz 2000-2001

Handout 2Print Handout 2

Poetry of Billy Collins

Fishing on the Susquehanna in July

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure -- if it is a pleasure --
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one --
a painting of a woman on the wall,

a bowl of tangerines on the table –
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,

rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.

But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia,

when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend

under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandana

sitting in a small, green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.

That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.

Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,

even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.

Another reason why I don't keep a gun in the house

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,
and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

--Billy Collins (www.bigsnap.com)

Philanthropy Framework:


Melissa, Teacher – Dover, NY4/30/2007 4:04:34 PM

Looks wonderful. Thank you! I will use it!

Jana, Teacher – Jackson, MI11/15/2007 7:17:32 AM

My students enjoyed the discussion on quotations and philanthropy and also coming up with examples of the three conventions as they painted visual pictures.

Patricia, Teacher – Saginaw, MI11/15/2007 7:19:08 AM

(The positive aspect of using the lesson was) students wrote excellent metaphors and similes about philanthropy. They understood the definitions of metaphor, simile and personification and were able to apply them. Their understanding of the term philanthropy was strengthened.

Catherine, Teacher – Chesaning, MI11/15/2007 7:20:07 AM

(The positive aspect of using the lesson was) the students developed a much better understanding of the concept of philanthropy. It was a good means of assessment on many of the concepts.

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