Poetry and Social Change

Many outstanding pieces of poetry map the controversies and questions of their time, as well as telling us about the inner lives of their authors. Poets have responded in ways that are both sweeping and deeply personal to all kinds of events and ideas: from the impact of evolution on Christianity to the outrages of dictators of Latin America. In this course we will focus on poetry that engages with moments of social change or crisis. Each piece will be framed within its historical context, and we will examine history along with a selection of different poems and their authors.

A $50 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Online - Eva Schubert $170.00 0 Join Waitlist

Schedule clarification: This is a four-week online course. It runs from Monday, November 8 to Friday, December 3. Each week, all week, you can study that week’s material, post and respond to discussion board topics, and engage in course activities. You will participate in Zoom Meetings sessions each Friday from 1:30–3 p.m. Pacific Time.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Extract meaning from poetic language
  • Describe the historical context for the poems and their authors
  • Explain how specific poems speak to social issues
  • Discuss how emotion is communicated in verse

Learning methods

Your online learning will include the following methods:

  • Reading academic and non-academic articles, and poetry
  • Participation in written discussions with other students
  • Participation in discussions in videoconference seminars

For Liberal Arts for 55+ Certificate students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: Evolution and crisis of faith

Alfred Tennyson is justly remembered as a great poet. One of his most personal poems, “In Memoriam A.H.H.”, captures the struggle that a generation of Victorians faced when attempting to reconcile scientific developments with their sense of faith. The poem is also an extended diary of the process of personal grief and an example of Tennyson’s outstanding craftsmanship.

Week 2: Poetry against dictatorship

Pablo Neruda is best known for his love poems in North America, but he wrote passionately about the dictatorship and exploitation in his native Chile. His epic, “Canto General” is an outstanding example of this, and gives voice to struggles that extend far beyond Chile.

Week 3: Strange fruit and jazz as resistance

Abel Meeropol’s poem, “Strange Fruit” was made famous when Billie Holiday sang it, in a searing indictment of sickening violence against African Americans. Meeropol was Jewish, and his support for equality was part of a larger connection between Jews, jazz and Black civil rights in America.

Week 4: Urbanization and ominous light

The number of people who live in cities is larger than it has ever been, and the impact of this way of living on human life and the planet is enormous. Earle Birney’s beautiful poem, “Vancouver Lights” maps this change and the future it may bring.

Books, materials and resources

You will access course resources using SFU’s online course management system, Canvas.

Technical requirements

This course is delivered using SFU's online learning system, Canvas. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.  

To get the most out of this online course, you should be comfortable doing the following:

  • Using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media
  • Navigating a website by clicking on links and finding pages in a menu
  • Downloading and opening PDF documents
  • Posting, replying and uploading images to a discussion board
  • Participating in videoconferencing sessions

You will be participating in videoconferencing using Zoom Meetings. For this, your computer needs to have a camera, microphone and speakers or headphones. Your computer software should be up to date with the latest available operating system and browser versions.

Accessing your course

  • A few days before the course starts, we will email you more information about the course and how you'll access it. You will also receive an email inviting you to access the Canvas learning platform (click on the link in the invitation to join the course). Once you’ve accessed Canvas, you can begin exploring the platform on your own. The full course will be accessible on its start date.
  • We’ll also host a virtual drop-in time on Zoom Meetings a few days before the course starts. This will give you a chance to check that you can access Zoom Meetings, and that your computer’s camera and microphone and speakers are working properly.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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