Example #18 Poetry and Hope

What if a poem helped students to think about how they can change?

Liz taught English and wanted to use the poem Woman of the Future by Cathy Warry to help students consider what shapes them (see poem at the bottom of this article). The poem takes the reader through a set of experiences which have happened to a girl. It questions whether these will determine who the woman will be in the future and asks if there is freedom to escape from the 'cocoon'.

"I did not want to go straight to the poem; instead I asked the students to jot down what their hopes were for the future. These were shared briefly. Afterwards I asked students to list memories or experiences from their childhood. (We briefly discussed boundaries and students only wrote what they were happy sharing.) They then looked for any connections between these experiences and their hopes. For some there were connections, for others there were no links. I wanted the students to reflect on where their vision of the future comes from and what might be shaping it. The past might shape it, culture might shape it or family might shape it, there are many possibilities. We then looked at the poem and I used a series of questions to promote discussion:
  • What shaped this woman?
  • Are they the same things that shape us?
  • At the end Cathy Warry talks of the ‘Woman of the future’: how should she be shaped? What might she be like?
  • Can we leave everything behind and become a beautiful butterfly?
  • Should how we become a beautiful butterfly from the cocoon of our past be our aim we when we reflect on our personal histories?
  • Can we just leave the past behind or do some things need forgiveness?
  • Where does my vision of the future come from?
  • Can we change ourselves or do we need help? What kind of help?
  • Would it take a different set of experiences to change my vision, or would a different vision shape the way I reflect on my experiences?

What’s going on here?

Liz saw her English lesson as a way of students considering what shapes us and how we change. Are we trapped by our past or can we make choices and break out of that into something new? This raised big questions about choice and forgiveness.

She engaged students in reflection on choice, making it personal and relevant and helping students make the connection with big questions.

Liz reshaped her practice by choosing her questions carefully in connection with a consideration of what story her lesson told about life and how we can change.

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Our characters are often seen as the result of our genes or our environment and this can lead to an implicit or explicit assumption that we have little control and cannot change anything. Without denying the influence of genetics or environment, Christianity maintains that we can make choices and take responsibility, though in some situations our choice and responsibility is reduced. Putting faith in God can set people free from a negative past that imprisons them. Forgiveness, of self and others, is a large part of that breaking with the past and a fresh start. God’s love and forgiveness can heal the past. This gives people hope of a different future inspired by God’s vision of what we and our world could be.

What difference does it make?

Liz reflects: "This poem sends a powerful message to those who feel trapped by their past and to those with the power to shape the experiences of others. I wanted students to engage with this issue and others raised by the poem, such as: We can break out of the 'cocoon' but what do we break out into? I have often wondered what my vision of the future would be if Christian hope truly shaped it, and how that would relate to all the experiences that have already gone into shaping me."

Where could we go from here?

Students could rewrite the poem to describe themselves and to reflect their lives and hopes. They could write in prose reflecting on what kind of person they were a year ago, where they are now and where they hope to be. Another way into this discussion is to use the following case study: a visitor to the Fitzwillam Museum in Cambridge tripped and accidently smashed three 17th Century Chinese vases estimated to be worth £500,000. An art restorer re-built the vases; she could have covered the cracks, but she didn’t. The fall was now part of the history of these vases. Leaving the cracks meant that what we now see is genuine and authentic. This can become a metaphor for our lives: our history is part of us, it forms us and we don’t have to deny it, but it does not have to determine the future – we don't have to remain broken.

Digging deeper

While recognising factors such as genetics and environment, Christianity maintains the freedom of the individual to make responsible choices concerning faith and morals (Joshua 24:15). There is a difference between influences on our behavior and not having any choice.
Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will — his personal responsibility in the realm of faith and morals. Albert Schweitzer
The choice for God – in response to being chosen and forgiven by God – is often called conversion. This is a new beginning in a close relationship with God and a changing relationship with others. Conversion can be dramatic like St Paul's or slow and imperceptible. Conversion is only the beginning; it starts a process of change with the help of the Holy Spirit. People undergoing this change are called ‘a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and Christian history is full of people whose lives were turned around. Not every story is dramatic, but, however ordinary it might be, there is a change of direction which changes the future.
The vision that shapes the future and the present, for Christians, is the vision of the Kingdom where love, peace and justice reign (Isaiah 9:7; Revelation 21:4). This vision is reflected throughout the Bible, and the Kingdom of God is a key part of the teaching of Jesus, whose own message was one of love and peace.

Explore similar examples:

What if a literature class helped students to think about choices?
What if poetry made students think about anger and revenge?
What if flawed people can make a difference?

Woman of the Future by Cathy Warry

I am a child.
I am all the things of my past.
I am all the freckles from my mother’s nose.
I am the laziness of my dad
Resting his eyes in front of the television.
I am all I see,
Boys doing Karate Chops.
Rubens’ lovely ladies,
Fat and bulging,
TV ads of ladies who wear lipstick in the laundry.
And worry about their hands
And their breath.
Madonnas with delicate faces holding little bundles of Jesus.
I am all I hear.
‘Look after him. You’re his sister.’
‘Come and get your hair done.’
‘Rack off, Normie!’
Waves lapping or crashing at the beach.
And the wind in trees and telegraph wires.
I am all I feel and taste.
Soft and glossy mud on toes.
Hairy insect legs
Slippery camphor and laurel leaves
The salty taste of fish and chips on my tongue
And the watery melting of iceblocks.
And all I remember.
A veranda shaded by grape vines,
Where I stepped off the edge and flew
Like Superman.
And waking up in the cold in a car where dad changed a tyre.
And being lost in the zoo with my cousin.
I am all I’ve been taught.
‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’.
‘Smoking is a health hazard.’
I am all I think.
Deep down inside me.
I am all those things.
I’m like a caterpillar
And these things are my cocoon.
But one day I’ll bite my way out
And be free
I’m the woman of the future
Print page
1Joshua called the tribes of Israel together for a meeting at Shechem. He made the leaders, including the old men, the judges, and the officials, come up and stand near the sacred tent. 2Then Joshua told everyone to listen to this message from the Lord , the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors lived on the other side of the River Euphrates, and they worshipped other gods. This continued until the time of your ancestor Terah and his two sons, Abraham and Nahor. 3But I brought Abraham across the River Euphrates and led him through the land of Canaan. I blessed him by giving him Isaac, the first in a line of many descendants. 4Then I gave Isaac two sons, Jacob and Esau. I let Esau live in the hill country of Mount Seir, but your ancestor Jacob and his children went to live in Egypt. 5Later I sent Moses and his brother Aaron to help your people, and I made all those horrible things happen to the Egyptians. I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, but the Egyptians got in their chariots and on their horses and chased your ancestors, catching up with them at the Red Sea. 7Your people cried to me for help, so I put a dark cloud between them and the Egyptians. Then I opened up the sea and let your people walk across on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, I commanded the sea to swallow them, and they drowned while you watched. You lived in the desert for a long time, 8then I brought you into the land east of the River Jordan. The Amorites were living there, and they fought you. But with my help, you defeated them, wiped them out, and took their land. 9King Balak decided that his nation Moab would go to war against you, so he asked Balaam to come and put a curse on you. 10But I wouldn't listen to Balaam, and I rescued you by making him bless you instead of curse you. 11You crossed the River Jordan and came to Jericho. The rulers of Jericho fought you, and so did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. I helped you defeat them all. 12Your enemies ran from you, but not because you had swords and bows and arrows. I made your enemies panic and run away, as I had done with the two Amorite kings east of the River Jordan. 13You didn't have to work for this landI gave it to you. Now you live in towns you didn't build, and you eat grapes and olives from vineyards and trees you didn't plant. 14Then Joshua told the people: Worship the Lord , obey him, and always be faithful. Get rid of the idols your ancestors worshipped when they lived on the other side of the River Euphrates and in Egypt. 15But if you don't want to worship the Lord , then choose now! Will you worship the same idols your ancestors did? Or since you're living on land that once belonged to the Amorites, perhaps you'll worship their gods. I won't. My family and I are going to worship and obey the Lord ! 16The people answered: We could never worship other gods or stop worshipping the Lord . 17The Lord is our God. We were slaves in Egypt as our ancestors had been, but we saw the Lord work miracles to set our people free and to bring us out of Egypt. Even though other nations were all around us, the Lord protected us wherever we went. 18And when we fought the Amorites and the other nations that lived in this land, the Lord made them run away. Yes, we will worship and obey the Lord , because the Lord is our God. 19Joshua said: The Lord is fearsome; he is the one true God, and I don't think you are able to worship and obey him in the ways he demands. You would have to be completely faithful, and if you sin or rebel, he won't let you get away with it. 20If you turn your backs on the Lord and worship the gods of other nations, the Lord will turn against you. He will make terrible things happen to you and wipe you out, even though he had been good to you before. 21But the people shouted, We won't worship any other gods. We will worship and obey only the Lord ! 22Joshua said, You have heard yourselves say that you will worship and obey the Lord . Isn't that true? Yes, it's true, they answered. 23Joshua said, But you still have some idols, like those the other nations worship. Get rid of your idols! You must decide once and for all that you really want to obey the Lord God of Israel. 24The people said, The Lord is our God, and we will worship and obey only him. 25Joshua helped Israel make an agreement with the Lord that day at Shechem. Joshua made laws for Israel 26and wrote them down in The Book of the Law of Godbk*. Then he set up a large stone under the oak tree at the place of worship in Shechem 27and told the people, Look at this stone. It has heard everything that the Lord has said to us. Our God can call this stone as a witness if we ever reject him. 28Joshua sent everyone back to their homes. Joshua, Joseph, and Eleazar are buried 29Not long afterwards, the Lord 's servant Joshua died at the age of one hundred and ten. 30The Israelites buried him in his own land at Timnath-Serah, north of Mount Gaash in the hill country of Ephraim. 31As long as Joshua lived, Israel worshipped and obeyed the Lord . There were other leaders old enough to remember everything that the Lord had done for Israel. And for as long as these men lived, Israel continued to worship and obey the Lord . 32When the people of Israel left Egypt, they brought the bones of Joseph along with them. They took the bones to the town of Shechem and buried them in the field that Jacob had bought for one hundred pieces of silver from Hamor, the founder of Shechem. The town and the field both became part of the land belonging to the descendants of Joseph. 33When Eleazar the priest died, he was buried in the hill country of Ephraim on a hill that belonged to his son Phinehas.
1Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth. But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live. These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last for ever. 2While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home. 3We want to put it on like clothes and not be naked. 4These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan. But we don't do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die. It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die. 5God is the one who makes all this possible. He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it. 6So always be cheerful! As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the Lord. 7But we live by faith, not by what we see. 8We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord. 9But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him. 10After all, Christ will judge each of us for the good or the bad that we do while living in these bodies. Bringing people to God 11We know what it means to respect the Lord, and we encourage everyone to turn to him. God himself knows what we are like, and I hope you also know what kind of people we are. 12We are not trying once more to boast about ourselves. But we want you to be proud of us, when you are with those who are not sincere and boast about what others think of them. 13If we seem out of our minds, it is between God and us. But if we are in our right minds, it is for your good. 14We are ruled by Christ's love for us. We are certain that if one person died for everyone else, then all of us have died. 15And Christ did die for all of us. He died so we would no longer live for ourselves, but for the one who died and was raised to life for us. 16We are careful not to judge people by what they seem to be, though we once judged Christ in that way. 17Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new. 18God has done it all! He sent Christ to make peace between himself and us, and he has given us the work of making peace between himself and others. 19What we mean is that God was in Christ, offering peace and forgiveness to the people of this world. And he has given us the work of sharing his message about peace. 20We were sent to speak for Christ, and God is begging you to listen to our message. We speak for Christ and sincerely ask you to make peace with God. 21Christ never sinned! But God treated him as a sinner, so that Christ could make us acceptable to God.
1But those who have suffered will no longer be in pain. The territories of Zebulun and Naphtali in Galilee were once hated. But this land of the Gentiles across the River Jordan and along the Mediterranean Sea will be greatly respected. War is over 2Those who walked in the dark have seen a bright light. And it shines upon everyone who lives in the land of darkest shadows. 3Our Lord , you have made your nation stronger. Because of you, its people are glad and celebrate like workers at harvest time or like soldiers dividing up what they have taken. 4You have broken the power of those who abused and enslaved your people. You have rescued them just as you saved your people from Midian. 5The boots of marching warriors and the blood-stained uniforms have been fed to flames and eaten by fire. A child has been born 6A child has been born for us. We have been given a son who will be our ruler. His names will be Wonderful Adviser and Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace. 7His power will never end; peace will last for ever. He will rule David's kingdom and make it grow strong. He will always rule with honesty and justice. The Lord All-Powerful will make certain that all of this is done. God will punish Israel 8The Lord had warned the people of Israel, 9and all of them knew it, including everyone in the capital city of Samaria. But they were proud and stubborn and said, 10Houses of brick and sycamore have fallen to the ground, but we will build houses with stones and cedar. 11The Lord made their enemies attack them. 12He sent the Arameans from the east and the Philistines from the west, and they swallowed up Israel. But even this did not stop him from being angry, so he kept on punishing them. 13The people of Israel still did not turn back to the Lord All-Powerful and worship him. 14In one day he cut off their head and tail, their leaves and branches. 15Their rulers and leaders were the head, and the lying prophets were the tail. 16They had led the nation down the wrong path, and the people were confused. 17The Lord was angry with his people and kept punishing them, because they had turned against him. They were evil and spoke foolishly. That's why he did not have pity on their young people or on their widows and orphans. 18Evil had spread like a raging forest fire sending thorn bushes up in smoke. 19The Lord All-Powerful was angry and used the people as fuel for a fire that scorched the land. They turned against each other 20like wild animals attacking and eating everyone around them, even their own relatives. But still they were not satisfied. 21The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh turned against each other, then joined forces to attack Judah. But the Lord was still angry and ready to punish the nation even more.
1I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had disappeared, and so had the sea. 2Then I saw New Jerusalem, that holy city, coming down from God in heaven. It was like a bride dressed in her wedding gown and ready to meet her husband. 3I heard a loud voice shout from the throne: God's home is now with his people. He will live with them, and they will be his own. Yes, God will make his home among his people. 4He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone for ever. 5Then the one sitting on the throne said: I am making everything new. Write down what I have said. My words are true and can be trusted. 6Everything is finished! I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give water from the life-giving fountain to everyone who is thirsty. 7All who win the victory will be given these blessings. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 8But I will tell you what will happen to cowards and to everyone who is unfaithful or dirty-minded or who murders or is sexually immoral or uses witchcraft or worships idols or tells lies. They will be thrown into that lake of fire and burning sulphur. This is the second death. 9I saw one of the seven angels who had the bowls filled with the seven last terrible troubles. The angel came to me and said, Come on! I will show you the one who will be the bride and wife of the Lamb. 10Then with the help of the Spirit, he took me to the top of a very high mountain. There he showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down from God in heaven. 11The glory of God made the city bright. It was dazzling and crystal clear like a precious jasper stone. 12The city had a high and thick wall with twelve gates, and each one of them was guarded by an angel. On each of the gates was written the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13Three of these gates were on the east, three were on the north, three more were on the south, and the other three were on the west. 14The city was built on twelve foundation stones. On each of the stones was written the name of one of the Lamb's twelve apostles. 15The angel who spoke to me had a gold measuring stick to measure the city and its gates and its walls. 16The city was shaped like a cube, because it was just as high as it was wide. When the angel measured the city, it was about two thousand four hundred kilometres high and two thousand four hundred kilometres wide. 17Then the angel measured the wall, and by our measurements it was about sixty metres high. 18The wall was built of jasper, and the city was made of pure gold, clear as crystal. 19Each of the twelve foundations was a precious stone. The first was jasper, the second was sapphire, the third was agate, the fourth was emerald, 20the fifth was onyx, the sixth was carnelian, the seventh was chrysolite, the eighth was beryl, the ninth was topaz, the tenth was chrysoprase, the eleventh was jacinth, and the twelfth was amethyst. 21Each of the twelve gates was a solid pearl. The streets of the city were made of pure gold, clear as crystal. 22I did not see a temple there. The Lord God All-Powerful and the Lamb were its temple. 23And the city did not need the sun or the moon. The glory of God was shining on it, and the Lamb was its light. 24Nations will walk by the light of that city, and kings will bring their riches there. 25Its gates are always open during the day, and night never comes. 26The glorious treasures of nations will be brought into the city. 27But nothing unworthy will be allowed to enter. No one who is dirty-minded or who tells lies will be there. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life will be in the city.