2021 Summer Teachers Institute (Resources)

The Journey Motif: Poetry and Mark Twain

Sketch drawn by mark Twain in 1890 that accompanied one of the author’s poems

Mark Twain identified as a poet, a bad poet. “When the great poet laureate, Lord Tennyson, died,” Twain wrote, “I found that his position was open and I tried to get it…but I did not get it…It is a very difficult task making the second line rhyme with the first.” 

All joking aside, Twain really did frequently and enthusiastically experiment with verse. He read and recited poetry with friends and family. He composed short poems, both serious and silly, to be included in letters and telegrams. He wrote and fastidiously revised poems in his journals and notebooks, even though many of them never made their way to publication. And he sometimes used poetry, both his own compositions and lines written by others, to punctuate his speeches.

Twain’s relationship to poetry reveals a lot about how poetry circulated in the nineteenth-century United States. In what follows, we provide and contextualize two of Twain’s poems, “Genius” and “These Annual Bills,” which we think can be productively scaffolded into teaching units build around one of the most popular poems in the Common Core, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

Below is a collection of resources built around this theme:

“And that has made all the difference”: Scaffolding Mark Twain’s Poetry

The Journey Motif: Poetry and Mark Twain (Part 1)