Thanksgiving: Through the Lens of Poetry, Art & Literature

Thanksgiving: Through the Lens of Poetry, Art & Literature

As mentioned in the Sept/Oct 2016 edition of Learning Ahead, food connects us. The gathering of community, family, and friends around the table for a shared meal is a meaningful way to spend time together in the spirit of sharing and collaboration through food. The Thanksgiving season is one that inspires us to reflect on the people and places for which we are thankful. It’s an opportunity to express gratitude collectively.

Today, the traditional Thanksgiving meal is a celebration of the harvest season. The dinner table features the autumn bounty produced by local farms. Customary foods often included in Thanksgiving meals include corn, turkey, cranberry sauce, and fall vegetables such as squash and pumpkin pie. In fact, the traditional New England dishes often included at the Thanksgiving table have even inspired poets in their literary musings. 

Thanksgiving: Poetry

Langston Hughes, a poet of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City, wrote the poem “Thanksgiving Time.” Read the poem online. Do you notice its rhythm and energy? How does the poet use words to convey the excitement and bounty of Thanksgiving?

How does Hughes describe the Thanksgiving preparations? What particular things happen in the environment and at home that signify Thanksgiving’s arrival? What do you notice in your own home or surroundings that let you know that it’s time for Thanksgiving?

Remember John Greenleaf Whittier, one of the fireside poets featured in the Sept/Oct 2016 edition of Learning Ahead? In Whittier’s poem “The Pumpkin,” the poet writes, “What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?”

The entire poem champions this quintessential New England Thanksgiving dish. You can read the entire poem online.

Thanksgiving: Art & Literature

The Thanksgiving meal has also inspired artists in their work.  Stockbridge, MA painter, Norman Rockwell, painted Freedom from Want in 1942 during wartime in Europe.  This painting is a part of Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series. The painting, Freedom from Want, was painted during war time in Europe.  The series was inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech.  The three other paintings are entitled Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, and Freedom from Fear. Rockwell spent six months creating these paintings and in 1943 they were published in the Saturday Evening Post.

Read Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech Four Freedoms from January 6, 1941. After reading it, consider visiting the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.  There you can see Rockwell’s entire series, Four Freedoms.

After reading and listening FDR’s speech and viewing Rockwell’s paintings, explore connections! What do you think was Rockwell’s intent?  What about the paintings, their images, the way the figures are seated or are painted point to FDR’s speech and Rockwell’s inspiration?  How does this important moment in political history affect art that was consumed by the masses?  What is the relationship between politics and art? What is Rockwell trying to convey to his viewer?


Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Nov/Dec), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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