131 – “Bingen on the Rhine” in Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables features a LOT of poetry. The book is set in the 1880’s, and back then teenagers would carefully select poems to recite to one another in the way that teenagers a few decades ago used to select songs to include in a mix tape.

“Bingen on the Rhine” is a beautiful poem by Caroline Norton, a writer and women’s rights campaigner who is so fascinating in her own right that her story could fill a hundred books. Gilbert Blythe chose to recite her poem in front of Anne Shirley – and every other kid at school – because it was one of the only ways he had to express to her his deep regret at having offended her, and his deep hope that she might one day forgive him.

Activity: Caroline Norton

Caroline Norton was a very important figure in the early battle for women’s legal rights. She was trapped in an unhappy marriage to a cruel and controlling man, who confiscated the money she earned from her writing and kept her own children away from her. She worked hard to raise this issue with the British parliament, which eventually passed laws that granted women the same legal rights as men when it came to property ownership, divorce, and child custody.

Students can research Caroline Norton’s life and the important social and legal reforms she worked so hard to achieve. It’s especially important for them to understand how these early efforts made the later campaign for women’s suffrage possible.

Activity: Memorize and Recite a Poem

Students can select a poem to research, memorize, and perform for others. The poem could be serious or humorous. It could tell a story or be more abstract. Poems should be selected to convey a special meaning to the audience. After the performance, have students ask audience members if they can guess the reason the poem was selected.