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Longfellow and the American Sonnet

Mountain of the Holy Cross painting, 1875

Mountain of the Holy Cross painting, 1875 / Maine Historical Society

A resource developed through the Longfellow and the Forging of American Identity program

Author: Mary Willink, English Teacher, grades 9-12, Greater Portland Christian School, South Portland, Maine
Suggested Grade Level: 9-12
Subject Area: English

Time Required: 1 45-minute class period

Materials and Resources Required:
The following are included in this downloadable lesson plan packet (PDF):
-Discussion questions
-Henry Wadsworth LongfellowÂ’s "The Cross of Snow" with accompanying images

Learning Objectives: The student will be able to explain why Longfellow's sonnets are a variation of the Petrarchan Sonnet and to explain how Longfellow used an image/setting to describe an emotion.

Traditionally the Petrarchan sonnet as used by Francesco Petrarch was a 14 line lyric poem using a pattern of hendecasyllables and a strict end-line rhyme scheme; the first twelve lines followed one pattern and the last two lines another. The last two lines were the "volta" or "turn" in the poem. When the sonnet came to the United States sometime after 1775, through the work of Colonel David Humphreys, Longfellow was one of the first to write widely in this form which he adapted to suit his tone. Since 1900 poets have modified and experimented with the traditional traits of the sonnet form. Download lesson packet (PDF)