Episode II-Ants on the Blacktop Weeds on the Will

Another first day lesson-

John Moffitt’s “To Look at Any Thing” is the first session poem I’ve used for the longest time.  After we find each image, we talk about the lines, “you must/ Be the thing you see.”  The concept of trying to be a part of nature is a new one to most students.  Sitting silent, staring at one individual part of nature, even something so unnoticed as a single blade of grass, transforms how the poet looks at nature.  Suddenly each leaf or solitary rock becomes a world in itself.

Recently I added on the poem by Rainer Maria Rilke partly because he is one of my favorite poets and partly because this poem presents such a clear unusual image.  The students love guessing what this image means.  Usually someone knows enough about stags to make the connection to the rack of antlers looking like branches.  I also let them know that we are reading Rilke’s poem in translation since it was written in German.

To Look at Any Thing

To look at any thing,

If you would know that thing,

You must look at it long:

To look at this green and say

‘I have seen spring in these

woods,’ will not do–you must

Be the thing you see:

You must be the dark snakes of

Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,

You must enter in

To the small silences between

The leaves,

You must take your time

And touch the very peace

They issue from. 1

John Moffitt

Now the stag becomes part of earth.  Lifts and holds

the tree of winter, its pure unfoliated

branched-out play.  The peacefulness of its head

stops just short of breaking into leaves. 2

Rainer Maria Rilke 1916

It is important to me that both of these poems speak about the peace found in nature.  For the assignment, I ask students to remember that their primary goal is to create word pictures of what they see and hear.  Since getting that first line paralyses some writers, I ask them to let the first detail they see be your opening line.  Then all they have to do is keep adding pictures of what they see to their poem remembering to use a metaphor or simile.  As I always do, I remind them that using free association can release their creativity and help them to get the images they need to create a word picture for their reader.

Tragic Ants

Watch the ants

move around

like swervy lines of clouds.

See them go around

so fast with no where to go

looking up at you

like non-minded rocks.

The ants curve and curve

while they walk as tiny beings

from another


Ants, what ants.

Douglas, Fourth Grade


A grass hill is like hair that waves

softly as a summer song,

grass ever present, ever green.

Briana, Fourth Grade

1. Van Matre, Steve and Bill Weiler, editors.  The Earth Speaks.  Warrenville, Ill.: The Institute for Earth Education, 1983.

2. Snow, Edward, ed. and trans.  Uncollected Poems Rainer Maria Rilke.  New York:  North Point Press a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.

About Winding Stream Press

Janice DeRuiter Eskridge, M.F.A. is a poet who worked for over a decade as a poet-teacher for California Poets in the Schools. Helen Shoemaker, Ph.D. L.M.F.T. is a university professor who teaches in the areas of child development and counseling. She is also a therapist in private practice.
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