Poems on power

Many poems and songs lyrics have been written about power and politics. This lesson invites you to explore a few selected poems and song lyrics. You may find that you want to explore more poems and songs by one or more of these writers in preparation for an individual oral or HL Essay.

  1. Poetry can sometimes be complicated. Get into five groups and assign each group a different poem or song from Texts 1-5. As a group, read your poem and discuss what you think it is about. Then research the poem or song online, by visiting websites, such as genius.com, to learn how other people have interpreted your song or poem before. How do other people's interpretations help you understand the poem or song better? Discuss your findings as a group.  

  2. “next to of course god america i
    love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
    say can you see by the dawn’s early my
    country tis of centuries come and go
    and are no more what of it we should worry
    in every language even deafanddumb
    thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
    by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
    why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
    iful than these heroic happy dead
    who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
    they did not stop to think they died instead
    then shall the voice of liberty be mute?”

    He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

    The fat black woman
    could see through politicians
    like snake sees through rat
    she knows the oil
    that ease the tongue
    she knows the soup-mouth tact
    she knows the game
    the lame race for fame
    she knows the slippery hammer
    wearing down upon the brain

    In dreams she's seen them
    stalking the corridors of power
    faces behind a ballet-box cover
    the fat black woman won't be their lover

    But if you were to ask her
    What's your greatest political ambition?
    she'll be sure to answer

    To feed powercrazy politicians a manifesto of lard
    to place my X against a bowl of custard

    There must be some way out of here
    Said the joker to the thief
    There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief
    Businessmen, they drink my wine
    Plowmen dig my earth
    None of them along the line know what any of it is worth

    No reason to get excited, the thief, he kindly spoke
    There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
    But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate
    So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late

    All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
    While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too
    Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
    Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl

    An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
    Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
    Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring;
    Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
    But leechlike to their fainting country cling
    Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
    A people starved and stabbed in th' untilled field;
    An army, whom liberticide and prey
    Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;
    Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
    Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;
    A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—
    Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
    Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

    Don't move a muscle, stay exactly where you are
    They took my friend
    They cuffed his wrists
    They beat him in their van
    He hadn't done a thing
    But when they came, of course he ran
    And they pursued
    And they were rude
    And he said nothing
    He bit his lip
    'Cause If you speak, you'll feel their feet
    But if you don't
    You'll still get hit
    What's the matter with you
    My lovely brown eyed man?
    How come I can feel you shaking
    When I take you by the hand?
    What's the matter with you
    My lovely brown eyed man?
    How come I can feel you shaking?
    They want me bad, now bad I'll be
    They keep me poor
    They make me sick
    They feed me with desires for
    Things that I don't need or want
    Stick their needles in my arms
    Expensive things I can't afford
    They show me rooms furnished with gold
    And then they close the doors
    What's the matter with you
    My lovely brown eyed man?
    How come I can feel you shaking
    When I take you by the hand?
    What's the matter with you
    My lovely brown eyed man?
    How come I can feel you shaking?
    I'm the child of the gimme more nation
    When they want something
    They launch an occupation
    They plunder and they pillage
    They call it liberation
    They're bombing and maiming
    Stealing and taking
    But they lock me up
    They paint me a demon
    For trying to do right by my beautiful children
    They're killing for money
    They're crippling countries
    They're just doing it all beneath a flag that says
    Now, what's the matter with you?
    You're lying if you think
    That my pain isn't your pain
    Because when I'm hit, you flinch
    What's the matter with you
    My lovely brown eyed man?
    How come I can feel you shaking?

  3. After having researched and prepared your poem as a group, it's time to take questions from your classmates. Ask one person for your group to read your poem or song aloud for others to hear. Then start a question and answer session in which anyone can ask you anything about your song or poem. You do not have to have all of the answers, but try to offer informed responses with references to the primary sources (your poem or song) and the secondary sources (the websites) that you studied. 

  4. Individually, select a poem or song that you like best. Find two more songs by this author. Then, sit with other people who have chosen for the same poet or songwriter. As a group, compile a list of common themes and styles that you see your writer's works.  

  5. As a group, create a (virtual) wall display which includes (extracts from) at least 5 poems or song lyrics, a photograph or picture of the author and a short biography. Furthermore, include 5 major stylistic features or themes that the poems have in common and draw lines from these to examples of them in the (extracts from) the poems or song lyrics.

  6. As a group, deliver a presentation which helps your classmates understand your (virtual) wall display. As a class discuss, the extent to which these works relate to and deepen your understanding of the concepts from this course: transformation, identity, representation, creativity, culture, community and perspective. 

Take one of the poets who are featured in this lesson and find more poems by him or her. What kinds of global issues are present in more poems by this poet? Can you find a non-literary body of work elsewhere (on this site) to pair with your poet to explore a global issue of choice in your individual oral?

Last modified: Tuesday, 25 February 2020, 2:54 PM