They buried here the age but not the man.
They draped his crown and armor with this pall
but life goes on, still doing what it can.
I’ve tried to emulate his stern command,
but I am born too late. After its fall
they buried here the age, and not the man
or king, Capetian, Dane or Allemand,
can resurrect the Frankish rule of Gaul.
Our lives go on; we’re doing what we can.
But in this marble tomb the black-gloved hand
gripping the scepter, the torso broad yet tall
(as though a buried angel, not a man),
the leathery body, ironclad and tanned,
the hair and nails, each grown into a ball,
the life gone on, still doing what it can,
all, all are signs that Charlemagne had planned
this silent greeting in this silent hall,
and buried here, the age is not the man
whose life goes on still doing what it can.
from his book Charlemagne: A Song of Gestures Plumbers Ink Books. Cerrillios, New Mexico. 1983
winner of the 1982 Plumbers Ink Poetry Award
Used by permission of the poet.
For a History Class
by Laurie A. Williams
This would be a good poem to use in a Socratic circle or fishbowl discussion.
Pass a copy of the poem out to students. Have students go through the poem and look for historical information (people, places, indicators of time period, etc.)
After students have looked through the poem, read it aloud to them or have a student read it aloud.
Ask, Who is speaking in the poem? (students should get Otto III)
Ask, What is he talking about in this poem?
In pairs or small groups, have students research Otto III or Charlemagne. Students should take notes and be prepared to discuss what they have learned about their subject. This could be done in class if they have already studied both leaders. If they are just being introduced, the research may need to happen as homework.
Have the Charlemagne group sit in a discussion circle with the Otto II group outside, but taking notes on what the Charlemagne group discusses. Each person in the Charlemagne group must talk and make at least one point about Charlemagne. If you would like to redirect the conversation, write your comment or question on a sticky note and hand it to one of the group members. This discussion should last 12-15 minutes.
Switch groups. The Charlemagne group will take notes on what the Otto III group discusses. Each person in the Otto III group must talk and make at least one point about Otto III and the group should also work to include how Charlemagne influenced Otto III. If you would like to redirect the conversation, write your comment or question on a sticky note and hand it to one of the group members. This discussion should last 12-15 minutes.
At the end, divide each group in half and create two groups that have half Otto III and half Charlemagne. Have students look at their discussion notes and write one to two sentences about the relationship between Charlemagne and Otto III.
Have students read the poem again and see if they have a clearer understanding of what Otto III is saying in the poem.
As a writing exercise, have students choose a historical figure and write a poem in that figure’s voice (a dramatic monologue). Make sure students include historical information and comments about that historical information.
For an English Classroom
by Laurie A. Williams
Pass out a copy of this poem to students.
Before reading it, have students number the lines on the left hand side.
On the right hand side, have students label the rhyme scheme in letters (ABA).
If students don’t know the term tercet (three line stanza), give them that term.
Read the poem aloud as students follow along.
Ask what students notice about the poem’s form.
Which lines repeat?
Ask students if they can follow the form, looking at rhyme scheme, repetition, and rhythm.
If students don’t know the form villanelle, explain that to them.
Villanelle—a fixed form of 19 lines, with 5 tercets and 1 quatrain. The first and third lines are repeated.
This is also a good poem to have students scan for rhythm. Have students see if they can hear which syllables are accented and which are not. If you are going to have students scan, it will help if you double space the poem.
After students have looked at the form, have them discuss the subject matter.
Who is the speaker?
What is he or she speaking about?
For a writing assignment, have students choose a good topic, one that will work well with repetition, and write a villanelle. For the repetition to work well, the meaning needs to be enhanced each time the repeated line comes around.