Poetry analysis: “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”

At TAMS and Ed Homeschool, we believe that every child should learn about the song, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”  After all, poet James Weldon Johnson wrote Lift Every Voice and Sing in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It was performed for the first time  by 500 children in Jacksonville, Florida on February 12, 1900. 
In this blog, I have written two lessons, one for younger elementary students and one that can expand to include middle and high school as well. Students identify the parts of speech that Weldon uses to determine his intent and meaning of the poem. I also include simple terms such as free verse, hymn, and tone. 
Life voice
Weldon’s brother, John, set it to music and, shortly thereafter, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), adopted it as its official song. Today it is known as the Black National Anthem and is heralded as one of  the most cherished songs of the African American Civil Rights Movement.
Here are a few definitions that will help you better understand this poem:
  • free verse:  poetry that is free from specific patterns in meter or rhyme. The beauty of free verse is that although it does not follow specific patterns, it still allows the poet freedom to use whatever poetic devices are necessary to create the feeling that the poet wants to convey.  Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing is considered free verse because it does not follow a regular meter pattern.
  • hymn: a song or ode in praise or honor of God, a deity, a nation.
  • iamb a type of poetic “foot” made up of an unstressed and stressed syllable. Think of the way that you tap your feet to the beat of your favorite song.
  • iambic pentameter describes the particular rhythm that the words establish in a line. That rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables; these small groups of syllables are called “feet.” The word “iambic” describes the type of foot that is used (in English, an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). The word “pentameter” indicates that a line has five of these “feet”.
  • imagery a poetic device used for language and description that appeals to our five senses including smell, sight, tough, taste, and sound.
  • meter is a stressed and unstressed syllabic pattern in a verse, or within the lines of a poem. 
  • stanza: a set amount of lines grouped by rhythmical pattern and meter. It usually has four or more lines and is can be referred to as a verse.

  • tone: the poet’s attitude, emotions, and feelings towards the topic. 
lift every voice children
Lift every voice and sing   
Till earth and heaven ring, 
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; 
Let our rejoicing rise 
High as the listening skies, 
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. 
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, 
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.   
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, 
Let us march on till victory is won. 
Stony the road we trod, 
Bitter the chastening rod, 
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;   
Yet with a steady beat, 
Have not our weary feet 
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? 
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered, 
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, 
Out from the gloomy past,   
Till now we stand at last 
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast. 
God of our weary years,   
God of our silent tears, 
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way; 
Thou who hast by Thy might   
Led us into the light, 
Keep us forever in the path, we pray. 
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, 
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee; 
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,   
May we forever stand.   
True to our God, 
True to our native land.

Elementary analysis:

Read each stanza and identify the Parts of Speech that Weldon uses:

Use a red pen and write the following abbreviations over as many Parts that you can identify:

  • Noun n.
  • Verb v.
  • Adjective adj.
  • Adverb ad.
  • Pronoun pro.
  • Conjunction con.
  • Interjection int.
  • Articles art.

v.    adj.      n.     con.   v. 

Lift every voice and sing 

  Till earth and heaven ring, 

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; 

Let our rejoicing rise 

High as the listening skies, 

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea. 

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, 

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.   

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, 

Let us march on till victory is won. 

 

2. hymn: a song or ode in praise or honor of God, a deity, a nation.

               Circle the words that Weldon uses that help you identify this poem as a hymn. 

3. imagery: a poetic device used for language and description that appeals to our five senses including smell, sight, tough, taste, and sound.

               Read the following Lines. Underline the words that help you see or feel something. Describe the images that you see or feel.  

  • Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
  • We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
  • We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
  • Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

Advanced Analysis (middle – high school):

The poem begins with an invitation for all voices to join as one and sing until heaven hears and responds rings out with the harmonies of Liberty (freedom). It goes on to encourage us to rejoice with loud singing, in the blessings of heaven.
 
He uses similes to convey these ideas.
L5 High as the listening skies, 
L6 Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
What additional similes or metaphors can you find? Please indicate the Line number and describe the comparisons.
Tone is the poet’s attitude, emotions, and feelings towards the topic.
I espouse a somber tone that is designed to remind African Americans of our dark past and the days when we were without hope. Yet, at the same time, he believes that we are facing a “rising sun” that represents a “new day” filled with new hope and a bright future.  Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? Support your position with specific words and lines from the poem.
  1. Lift every voice and sing
  2. Till earth and heaven ring,
  3. Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
  4. Let our rejoicing rise
  5. High as the listening skies,
  6. Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
  7. Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
  8. Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.
  9. Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
  10. Let us march on till victory is won.
  11. Stony the road we trod,
  12. Bitter the chastening rod,
  13. Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
  14. Yet with a steady beat,
  15. Have not our weary feet
  16. Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
  17. We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
  18. We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
  19. Out from the gloomy past,
  20. Till now we stand at last
  21. Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
  22. God of our weary years,
  23. God of our silent tears,
  24. Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
  25. Thou who hast by Thy might
  26. Led us into the light,
  27. Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
  28. Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
  29. Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
  30. Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
  31. May we forever stand.
  32. True to our God,
  33. True to our native land.

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Destination D.C. Part 1: Saving and Adding Money

To prepare for our Spring trip to Washington D.C., students, parents, and teachers all agreed that the students must have an active role in saving their own money. 

Jug paintSo, each week, they are foregoing the candy bars, doing extra chores, and bringing in their coins. They must bring in their savings every week, learn how to add their money, and keep a running tab. The money they save will become their spending money in D.C.

dollar jugA few weeks ago, they decorated their money jugs with pictures of D.C. hot spots. Today they are painting their money jugs and counting money.

Eden Painting

​The money jugs have become a fun activity for these girls who bring in coins every day.

felicia's jug

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