Brendan’s Report from the Tibetan Earthquake. And How You Can Help.

Brendan Selby is one of our beloved Shmoop contributors. He has been living in Yushu – a culturally Tibetan region of Western China – teaching English to high school students. On April 14, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake hit the region and devastated much of the small town where Brendan lives.

We’re happy to report that Brendan is safe and has resumed teaching.

Brendan’s blog provides a moving and sometimes disturbing report of recent events… and also reminds us of his immense writing talent, his passion for teaching, and his compassion.

Brendan’s house – made of mud bricks – collapsed on him immediately during the largest of the many quakes to hit the region.

Brendan’s photo (at left) depicts the girls’ dormitory at his school that collapsed, killing many students.

Want to help?

Brendan suggested that donations be made via Yushu Earthquake Repsonse, a small coalition of local grassroots NGOs and volunteers.

8 of the Most Controversial US Supreme Court Nominees

U.S. Supreme Court Justices are unelected officials with lifelong terms. As such, many people don’t bat an eye when their confirmation proceedings turn into months of high drama, accusations, and nitpicking.

It might surprise you, however, to know that SCOTUS confirmation hearings weren’t always so tortuous. Once upon a time, nominees were confirmed without much ado – provided there weren’t any obvious blemishes on their records.

As President Obama gears up to make his second nomination to the highest court in the land, Shmoop looks back at 8 controversial nominees to demonstrate trends and uncover some interesting tidbits.

1. Some People’s Attorney

Name: Louis D. Brandeis

Nominated by: Woodrow Wilson

Confirmed by: a Senate vote of 47 to 22

Years on the Supreme Court: 1916 – 1939

The Monkey Wrench: Widespread opposition to Brandeis’s appointment caused “more controversy than any other Supreme Court nomination” prior to that point, according to the June 6, 1916 edition of the New York Times.

The Scoop: Brandeis was the kind of guy who was revolutionizing the Supreme Court before he even served on it.

In the 1908 case Muller v. Oregon, Brandeis persuaded the Supreme Court that limiting a woman’s workday to ten hours wasn’t unconstitutional based on – get this – actual data, which included statistical, economic, and sociological information as well as testimony from expert witnesses. The so-called “Brandeis Brief” has since become a model for court presentations.

Known as the “people’s attorney,” Brandeis went on to successfully oppose J.P. Morgan’s New England transportation monopoly, expose President Taft’s Secretary of the Interior as being anti-conservationist (and embarrass him into resigning), and fight for New York garment workers in a 1910 strike.

Woodrow Wilson admired the guy so much that he adopted Brandeis’s economic doctrine of New Freedom in his 1912 presidential campaign. Brandeis University admired him so much that they – spoiler alert – named themselves after him.

So, why all the fuss when Wilson appointed him to the bench? Well, Brandeis was the first Jewish nominee to the Supreme Court. In 1916, anti-Semitism was – to say the least – still widespread in the United States.

Brandeis’s successful nomination paved the way for six more Jewish SCOTUS Justices to follow, including current Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

2. Filibuster Vigilantly

Name: Abraham Fortas

Nominated by: Lyndon B. Johnson

Confirmed by: a Senate voice vote

Years on the Supreme Court: 1965 – 1969

The Monkey Wrench: In their first ever filibuster against a Supreme Court nominee, the Senate prevented his promotion from Associate Justice to Chief Justice in 1968.

The Scoop: In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg to resign his post in exchange for an ambassadorship in the UN. The goal? To appoint his friend, Abe Fortas, to Goldberg’s now-vacant position.

So far, so good. When Chief Justice Earl Warren announced his retirement three years later, LBJ then attempted to promote Fortas in his stead. Here’s where the ship of state really hits the fan.

Eager for Earl Warren to step down, conservative senators were none too thrilled when Fortas, another liberal, was chosen to replace him. As a result of the conservatives’ unified front, Fortas made history in becoming the first Chief Justice nominee ever to have to appear before the Senate to face questioning.

Conservative senators filibustered his appointment, allowing Richard Nixon, who’d since taken LBJ’s place in the White House, to instead appoint Warren Burger as Chief Justice in 1969. This move not only satisfied conservatives, but also had the added bonus of keeping the whole “Chief Justice Warren” thing going.

In an ironic twist, Fortas resigned in scandal later that same year after having accepted a lifetime annual stipend of $20,000 from a Wall Street financier in exchange for some undisclosed advice.

3. The Hruska Rescue

Name: G. Harrold Carswell

Nominated by: Richard Nixon

Rejected by: a Senate vote of 51 to 45

The Monkey Wrench: Carswell was seen by some as a “mediocre” archconservative with pro-segregation leanings.

The Scoop: After Abe Fortas resigned in 1969, Nixon attempted to appoint Clement Haynsworth to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy. Democrats opposed the appointment – likely in retaliation to the conservative filibuster against Fortas’s promotion to Chief Justice.

Flipping liberals the political birdie, Nixon then appointed Harrold Carswell, a federal judge with a high reversal rate and a bad civil rights track record, to take over Fortas’s post.

If ticking off liberals was indeed Nixon’s intention in nominating Carswell, he succeeded brilliantly.

Civil-rights advocates pointed out that Carswell had supported racial segregation in the late forties. Feminists came forward to testify against his candidacy in the Senate.

After Carswell was accused of being a “mediocre” nominee, Nebraskan Senator Roman Hruska rushed to his defense, stating: “Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”

Suffice it to say that this wasn’t the lifeboat Carswell was hoping for. Carswell’s nomination was narrowly defeated in the Senate.

4. Bork! Bork! Bork!

Name: Robert H. Bork

Nominated by: Ronald Reagan

Rejected by: a Senate vote of 58 to 42

The Monkey Wrench: Bork was one of the first Supreme Court nominees to be rejected purely on the basis of ideology rather than qualification.

The Scoop: Bork was a smart, accomplished Circuit Court judge at the time of his Supreme Court nomination in 1987.

Within an hour of the announcement, Ted Kennedy went on television to accuse Bork of envisioning an America “in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids.”

Believe it or not, the process and rhetoric only went downhill from there.

The White House failed to respond to Kennedy’s accusation for over two months, which certainly didn’t help the nomination.

Gregory Peck (a.k.a. Atticus Finch in the 1962 adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird) joined the fray by lending his voice to anti-Bork commercials.

In an incident that helped lead to the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, someone even leaked Bork’s video rental history to the press. (Don’t get your hopes up – its contents were unremarkable.)

Marking a new era of sensationalized confirmation hearings, the nomination gave rise to the verb “to bork,” which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means: “to defame or vilify (a person) systematically, esp. in the mass media, usually with the aim of preventing his or her appointment to public office.” Ouch.

5. Sexual Hearing

Name: Clarence Thomas

Nominated by: George H. W. Bush

Confirmed by: a Senate vote of 52 to 48

Years on the Supreme Court: 1991 – present

The Monkey Wrench: Anita Hill, one of Clarence Thomas’s former co-workers, accused him of sexual harassment.

The Scoop: Clarence Thomas, who is the second African-American to serve on the Supreme Court, was nominated in 1991 to succeed Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was the first.

The confirmation was going smoothly until an FBI leak revealed that Anita Hill, Thomas’s former co-worker at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, had accused him of indecent sexual conduct. So began one of the most bitterly fought confirmation hearings in Senate history.

In the tradition of Robert Bork’s nomination, Thomas’s confirmation proceedings were heavily influenced by a variety of private interest groups. Florynce Kennedy of the National Organization for Women famously threatened: “We’re going to bork him. We’re going to kill him politically.”

Bork’s legacy, however, ended up helping Thomas out quite a bit. Whereas Bork was lambasted for being outspoken in his conservatism, Thomas was careful not to reveal his position on controversial issues during the hearings. This strategy of dodging questions that reveal one’s beliefs on politically charged issues has since become common practice. As such, some observers question the value of modern confirmation hearings beyond that of “political theater.”

Clarence Thomas was eventually confirmed as an Associate Justice by the narrowest margin in confirmation history.

6. Re-Do

Name: Harriet E. Miers

Nominated by: George W. Bush

Nomination withdrawn

The Monkey Wrench: Miers had never served as a judge and was accused of being nominated entirely on the basis of her friendship with Bush.

The Scoop: Originally appointed to head the search committee for candidates to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Harriet Miers was nominated as O’Connor’s successor after several senators urged Bush to consider someone from outside the appellate court system.

Even among conservatives in Bush’s political base, however, Miers was not what they’d had in mind. Opposition to her nomination was remarkably widespread, bi-partisan, and resolute.

Having little experience in litigation and none in constitutional law, Miers was woefully unprepared for even her initial, one-on-one meetings with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy reported that Miers’s responses “range[d] from incomplete to insulting,” prompting Leahy and his fellow Democrat, Arlen Specter, to make her re-do some of her answers. Miers also mistakenly stated that proportional representation was a constitutional right.

Just three and a half weeks later, Miers asked Bush to withdraw her nomination – a request which he “reluctantly” accepted.

7. Enrollment CAP

Name: Samuel A. Alito, Jr.

Nominated by: George W. Bush

Confirmed by: a Senate vote of 58 to 42

Years on the Supreme Court: 2006 – present

The Monkey Wrench: Alito’s staunch conservatism, coupled with his membership in a conservative Princeton alumni group, drew scrutiny of his stances on women and minority rights.

The Scoop: After withdrawing Miers’s nomination, Bush nominated Alito to replace Sandra Day O’Connor.

Although he was unanimously voted “well qualified” for the position by the American Bar Association, questions arose when it was revealed that Alito associated with Concerned Alumni of Princeton. CAP not only sprung from the ashes of a group opposed to Princeton becoming co-ed, but also took a stance against affirmative action at the university.

Alito’s ties to CAP proved to be weak at best, but he was careful not to take an ideological stance during the confirmation hearings despite having been outspokenly conservative in the past.

In an application for a promotion in the Justice Department, Alito once wrote that “the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.” Moreover, as a circuit court judge, Alito voted to uphold a part of Pennsylvania law that required husbands to be notified of their wives’ abortions.

When questioned in 2005, however, Alito claimed that Roe v. Wade deserved “great respect” and then declined to state how he would vote on it if confirmed.

8. A Politically Unwise Statement by a Wise Latina

Name: Sonia Sotomayor

Nominated by: Barack Obama

Confirmed by: a Senate vote of 68 to 31

Years on the Supreme Court: 2009 – present

The Monkey Wrench: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

The Scoop: In a 2001 UC Berkeley Law lecture, Sonia Sotomayor stated that “our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.” She then expressed the hope that someone in her shoes would make better decisions than a white male from a different background.

Eight years later, when Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court, these statements created a media storm, causing conservatives such as Newt Gingrich to accuse her of being a “racist” unfit to judge even-handedly.

In spite of this scandal, the ABA Journal identified Sotomayor to be politically centrist in at least two articles (dated from 2008 and 2009). In fact, she’s the first person to be nominated to three different judiciary positions by three different presidents, both Republican and Democrat. After intense debate, Sotomayor sailed through the Senate vote to become the first Latina woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

16 Environmental Poems & History Topics to Study for Earth Day 2010

US History

Poetry – many poets (especially the Romantics) celebrate nature and ponder man’s relationship with his surroundings

8 of Shakespeare’s Hidden Dirty Jokes (And their Modern Music Equivalents)

(This article contains content intended for mature audiences only)

Anyone who remembers “the beast with two backs” from Othello or the “tongue in your tail” from The Taming of the Shrew has at least some inkling of Shakespeare’s devious wordplay.

Unfortunately, however, many printings of Shakespeare’s work gloss over the subtler aspects of his dirty humor, which can be juvenile, masterful, crass, or any combination thereof.

On the occasion of his 446th birthday, let’s take a look at eight of The Bard’s less conspicuous dirty jokes – and (just for kicks) see how the imagery is relevant to modern music.

1. Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act IV, Scene 1

Context: Costard, Maria, and Boyet are discussing archery.



A mark marvellous well shot; for they both did hit it.


A mark! O, mark but that mark! A mark, says my lady!

Let the mark have a prick in’t, to mete at, if it may be.


Wide o’ the bow-hand! I’ faith, your hand is out.


Indeed, ‘a must shoot nearer, or he’ll ne’er hit the


An if my hand be out, then belike your hand is in.


Then will she get the upshoot by cleaving the pin.


Come, come, you talk greasily; your lips grow foul.


She’s too hard for you at pricks, sir; challenge her
to bowl.


I fear too much rubbing; good-night, my good owl.

At First Glance: Maria and Costard tease Boyet for being out of practice at archery.

Pay Attention To: “let the mark have a prick in’t”; “shoot nearer, or he’ll ne’er hit”; “then will she get the upshoot”; “she’s too hard for you at pricks”; “I fear too much rubbing”

Try This On for Size: If you want the arrow to hit the mark, you can’t shoot from so far away.

Modern Musical Approximation:

I’ve got my love gun loaded, with hugs and kisses
And when I pull the trigger, there will be no misses
Ain’t no need to hide, ain’t no use to run
‘Cause I’ve got you in the sights of my love gun

– Albert King, The Hunter

2. Un-Dentured Servant: The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act III, Scene 1

Context: Speed , a servant, is a servant reading over a list of qualities in a milkmaid for hire.



‘Inprimis, She can milk.’


Ay, that she can.


‘Item, She brews good ale.’


And thereof comes the proverb, ‘Blessing of your heart, you brew good ale.’


‘Item, She hath no teeth.’


I care not for that neither, because I love crusts.


‘Item, She is curst.’


Well; the best is, she hath no teeth to bite.

At First Glance: The woman can milk a cow and brew ale; plus, Launce isn’t deterred by the fact that her smile is unsightly.

Pay Attention To: the images fresh “milk” and frothy “ale” bring to mind; why having “no teeth” might be a virtue

Try This On for Size: A heady ale goes down much smoother without all those teeth getting in the way.

Modern Musical Approximation:

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard,
And they’re like
It’s better than yours

– Kelis, Milkshake

3. The Birds and the Buttons: Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3

Context: Laertes is warning his sister, Ophelia, against pursuing a relationship with Hamlet.



Then weigh what loss your honour may sustain

If with too credent ear you list his songs,

Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open

To his unmaster’d importunity.

Fear it, Ophelia, fear it, my dear sister;

And keep you in the rear of your affection,

Out of the shot and danger of desire.

The chariest maid is prodigal enough

If she unmask her beauty to the moon:

Virtue itself scopes not calumnious strokes:

The canker galls the infants of the spring

Too oft before their buttons be disclos’d:

And in the morn and liquid dew of youth

Contagious blastments are most imminent.

At First Glance: Yielding to Hamlet’s avowals of affection could really damage your honor, especially since young people are so rash.

Pay Attention To: “too credent ear” (for Shakespeare, there’s no such thing as a PG-rated orifice); not opening “your chaste treasure”; the “rear of your affection”; the “shot” of desire; “calumnious strokes”; “disclos’d” buttons (as in, the opposite of “clos’d”); the “liquid dew of youth”; “contagious blastments” (and you don’t want to catch what that’ll give you)

Try This On For Size: Don’t open your buttons to the liquid dew of youth because contagious blastments are imminent.

Modern Musical Approximation:

Don’t let life push you around
Make your own path
Never look back
Some things are to come undone
Zippers are one
Keep your pants on
Keep your pants on
Keep your pants on

Young MC, Keep Your Pants On

4. Will They or Won’t They?: Sonnet 125

Context: A love poem addressed to an unknown “thee.”


The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in ‘Will,’ add to thy ‘Will’
One will of mine, to make thy large will more.

At First Glance: Since something as full of water as the sea can still accommodate more rain, you should add my will to yours.

Pay Attention To: the word “will,” which can mean: 1) personal drive; 2) a wish or desire; 3) lust; 4) a slang word for phallus; 5) a slang word for female genitalia; 6) a shortened name for William, which, oh yeah, happens to be the author of the poem

Try This On For Size: Since you have a lot of “will,” let my “will” make your “will” larger.

Modern Musical Approximation:

Don’t hate me
One is where they rate me
Lately you could find me
Behind the door marked VIP
Eating grapes under the AC
Big willie style is how we do it

Now how we do it
You know it’s big willie style

– Will Smith, Big Willie Style

5. Happy Camper: Venus and Adonis

Context: Venus runs into Adonis in the woods and falls madly in love with him.



I’ll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;

Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale:

Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,

Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.

Within this limit is relief enough,

Sweet bottom-grass and high delightful plain,

Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough,

To shelter thee from tempest and from rain:

At First Glance: Venus is really into landscaping.

Pay Attention To: “thou shalt by my deer” (dear); “stray lower”; “pleasant fountains”; “sweet bottom-grass”; “round rising hillocks”

Try This On for Size: There’s enough sweet bottom-grass around my pleasant fountain to keep you smiling all day.

Modern Musical Approximation:

Come go with me, babe
Come go with me, girl
Baby, let’s go
To the cabin down below

-Tom Petty, Cabin Down Below

6. Wall-E: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, Scene 1

Context: A play-within-the-play is being performed – badly: Thisby and Pyramus are two lovers tragically separated by a wall, which is played by an actual person.



O wall, full often hast thou beard my moans,
For parting my fair Pyramus and me!
My cherry lips have often kiss’d thy stones,
Thy stones with lime and hair knit up in thee.


I see a voice; now will I to the chink,
To spy an I can hear my Thisby’s face.


My love! thou art my love, I think.


O, kiss me through the hole of this vile wall.


I kiss the wall’s hole, not your lips at all.

At First Glance: Thisby and Pyramus mourn their separation. Thisby often kisses the rocks in the wall, and after hearing one another, the two lovers attempt to kiss through a hole in the mortar.

Pay Attention To: “thy stones”; “lime and hair knit up in thee”; “I kiss the wall’s hole”; the fact that the wall is an actual guy standing on stage

Try This On for Size: Umm, my cherry lips have often kissed thy stones?!

Modern Musical Approximation:

To the windowww,

To the wall!

– Lil’ Jon and the East Side Boyz, Get Low

7. Swordplay: Romeo and Juliet, Act V, Scene 3

Context: Discovering Romeo dead in her burial chamber, Juliet decides to take her own life.



Yea, noise? Then I’ll be brief. O happy dagger!
[Snatches Romeo’s dagger.]
This is thy sheath; there rest, and let me die.

At First Glance: Dagger, meet heart. Heart, dagger.

Pay Attention To: the fact that Romeo’s “dagger” is “happy”; the fact that death is a known metaphor for sexual climax

Try This On for Size: I want to die on Romeo’s happy dagger.

Modern Musical Approximation:

Oh I, I just died in your arms tonight
It must’ve been some kind of kiss
I should’ve walked away, I should’ve walked away

– Cutting Crew, (I Just) Died in Your Arms

8. Capital Offense: Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene 5

Context: Malvolio is reading a letter and thinks he recognizes the handwriting.


By my life, this is my lady’s hand: these be her very
C’s, her U’s, and her T’s; and thus makes she her great P’s.

At First Glance: Yup, these are my lady’s C’s, U’s, T’s, and P’s alright.

Pay Attention To: the fact that the “and” in “and her T’s” would be pronounced like the letter “n”; the spelling of certain four-letter words; the pronunciation of “her great P’s”

Try This On for Size: These are her cees, ues, ‘n tees – and thus makes she her great pees.

Modern Musical Approximation:

All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to if you seek Amy

– Britney Spears, If U Seek Amy

2010 Webbys: Shmoop and Share a Big Honor

Shmoop and PBS Share the Distinction of Being the Only Education Websites to Be Honored Two Years in a Row by the 14th Annual Webby Awards, the Top Awards in the Internet Industry

Shmoop ( is a publisher of digital education materials that make learning fun and relevant for students. Shmoop was launched in Nov. 2008 and has been named an Official Honoree by the Webby Awards in both years since its launch.

PBS ( was recognized in 2009 for its KCET affiliate’s website about the Andrew Jackson Presidency and in 2010 for its WNED affiliate’s website “Your Life, Your Money.”

More information from the Webby Awards Website

2010 Webby Award Nominees: Education

2010 Webby Award Official Honorees: Education

  • Of the nearly 10,000 entries submitted to the 14th Annual Webby Awards, fewer than 15% were distinguished as an Official Honoree. This honor signifies an outstanding caliber of work.

About the Webby Awards

The Webby Awards is the Internet’s most respected symbol of success. The 14th Annual Webby Awards received nearly 10,000 entries from all 50 states and over 60 countries worldwide.


Winners are chosen by the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences a global organization whose members include David Bowie, Harvey Weinstein, Arianna Huffington, Matt Groening, Internet inventor Vinton Cerf, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson, and R/GA Chairman and CEO Bob Greenberg.

Judging Criteria:

Websites & Mobile winners are selected for recognition based on excellence in the following criteria: content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity and overall experience.

Little-Known Facts about 9 Famous Poets

by Shmoop

Poets are known for being mysterious, brooding recluses. As far as unfounded stereotypes go, this is a very sexy image to have of poets. However, poets’ quirks usually aren’t that cut-and-dried.

Here is a cornucopia or variety pack of sweet, funny, unexpected, and downright creepy facts you probably didn’t know about nine famous poets.

1. Been There, Donne That

John Donne (1572 – 1631)

John Donne was an English poet who really, really liked metaphors. Ever consider how love is like that thing you strap your pencil into so you can draw perfect circles for geometry class? Then “A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning” is the poem for you.

If this doesn’t ring a bell from high school English class, try this Donne phrase on for size: “Death, be not proud.”

Or how about: “For whom the bell tolls.”

And if all else fails: “No man is an island.”

Yeah, that John Donne.  The big (poet) cheese.

Before penning his most famous works, however, Donne’s life was headed in a very different direction. In the 1590’s, he participated in several military expeditions against the Spanish to pursue a career as an English diplomat. His travel companion? Walter Raleigh. As in Sir Walter Raleigh, the bodacious New World explorer who helped make smoking tobacco fashionable in Europe. Guess now we know for whom the bell tolls.

2. Drear Diary

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)

In addition to writing some of our favorite Transcendental essays like “Self-Reliance” and “Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson holds a place in our minds as a great poet.

His 1837 “Concord Hymn” (which commemorates the American Revolution) coined the oh-so-famous phrase “the shot heard round the world” – which has since been used to describe everything from sports events to assassinations to swine flu. (The Coughs Heard Round the World? Thank you, New York Times.)

What most people don’t know about Emerson is that he loved his first wife. A lot.

Even though Ellen Tucker died just seventeen months into their marriage, Emerson always considered her his one and only love of his vida.

Need convincing? This diary entry, dated almost two months after her death, says it all: “I visited Ellen’s tomb & opened the coffin.” Wowsa.

3. I Contain Verisimilitudes

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

Of everyone in the American canon, Walt Whitman is probably as far from the image of the brooding poet as it gets. His exuberance spills out in lines like, “I sing the body electric,” “I am large, I contain multitudes,” and “I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.”

It’s no wonder that Whitman was quoted so heavily in the film Dead Poets Society. O CAPTAIN! my Captain? You definitely make it happen.

Whitman was one of those lucky artists who was appreciated in his own time. Especially by himself.

To “salt” the literary mine a bit, Whitman wrote glowing reviews of Leaves of Grass when he first published it in 1855. In one review, he described himself as “a naïve, masculine, affectionate, contemplative, sensual, imperious person.” Naiveté has never been sneakier.

Later, when his buddy Emerson wrote him a private letter of praise, Whitman reproduced it in the next edition of the book. And frankly, from the guy who said, “if you done it, it ain’t bragging,” we’d expect nothing less.

4. Hale and Heart-y

Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928)

Thomas Hardy is best known for writing Tess of the D’Urbervilles, a novel so controversial at the time that its constant criticism helped convince Hardy to permanently switch from writing novels to poetry.

Although few of Hardy’s poems were published during his lifetime, they’ve since been reexamined and ranked up there alongside his ground-breaking prose.

Despite the initial resistance, Hardy was a respected writer by the end of his life, prompting the executors of his estate to recommend that he be buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westmister Abbey.

Because Hardy wanted to be buried alongside his first wife, however, the two made a compromise: Hardy’s body would be sent to Poets’ Corner and his heart, to the grave of his wife.

(Legend has it that his heart was accidentally eaten by a cat along the way and cleverly replaced with that of a pig, but since this sounds remarkably similar to how the hunter tricks Queen Grimhilde in Snow White, we’re going to go ahead and chalk that up to good old urban legend.)

5. A Built-In Remedy for Khrushchev and Kennedy

Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

Despite being from San Francisco, Robert Frost is best known as a New England poet who captured rural America through poems about cottages, bird nests, stone walls, snowy woods, and horse-drawn carriages.

Against these simple backdrops, Frost managed to convey complex social interactions – which probably has something to do with why he won four Pulitzer Prizes.

Although most Americans know that Frost gave a poetry reading at John F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration in 1961, many aren’t aware that the US government deployed Frost to Russia a year later to mediate with Nikita Khrushchev.

Frost was so sick with fatigue and fever at the time that he couldn’t even make the drive to see Khrushchev, forcing the Soviet leader to come to him instead.

6. Eschew Obfuscation (gesundheit!)

T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Thomas Stearns Eliot is best known for writing long, intricate poems smattered with fancy allusions and snippets of other languages.

His “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a staple of high school English curriculums, but a lot of us never quite make it past the “patient etherized upon the table” part. Prufrock hypothesizes, speculates, doubts, and retracts, all the while describing how tea and neckties fit into his daily routine.

And yet, the poem is considered one of the most brilliant of the twentieth century.

How does Eliot pull it off? Suffice it to say the guy’s complicated. Where there’s complication, there’s usually contradiction.

In a 1920 essay called “Hamlet and His Problems,” Eliot calls Shakespeare’s Hamlet “an artistic failure” filled with “inconsistent scenes” and “hasty revisions.” Prince Hamlet’s complexity is not the result of his being a deep, sensitive soul, Eliot claims, but of Shakespeare’s bad writing. “We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him.”

From someone who wrote 132 lines of rambling hesitation about a guy having a mid-life crisis, them’s fightin’ words.

7. Leaves, Ho!

Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

James Mercer Langston Hughes is a poet of the Harlem Renaissance, an early 20th-century movement that sparked mainstream interest in African-American intellectualism.

As a testament to the longevity of his career, Hughes’s best known poem, “Harlem (Dream Deferred),” actually came several decades after the movement ended.

This classic poem not only sums up the mounting racial tension of the 1950’s, but contains the phrase that inspired the name of Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Before becoming recognized as a poet, however, Hughes was a world traveler. While working on a ship headed for the West African coast, he one day decided that literature and poetry diluted his experience of the real world. In a symbolic act, he then threw every book he owned overboard – save Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. (Apparently, he’d heard it was really “contemplative” and “sensual”…see above!)

8. Been Caught Stealin’

Allen Ginsberg (1926 – 1997)

Irwin Allen Ginsberg is one of the most famous poets of the Beat Generation, a 1950’s counter-culture characterized by literary, chemical, and sexual experimentation.

Ginsberg’s best known poem, “Howl,” was so radical for its time that Ginsberg’s publisher was arrested on charges of obscenity.

The charges were eventually overturned on the basis that the poem had redeeming social value, but nevertheless, the poem continues to meet with shock and censorship even today.

“Howl” is famously dedicated to Carl Solomon, whom Ginsberg met while spending eight months in “an armed madhouse” receiving electroshock therapy.

So how did Allen Ginsberg end up committed to a psychiatric hospital? By stowing a friend’s stolen goods in his college dorm. After getting caught and realizing he faced serious criminal charges, Ginsberg decided to plead insanity. So much for escaping the heat.

9. The Virtuoso

Maya Angelou (1928 –)

Marguerite Ann Johnson, a.k.a. Maya Angelou, is one of the most important autobiographers in America.

If you think you can’t make an entire career writing one autobiography, think again: Angelou split hers across six volumes, the first and most famous of which made her an international icon.

At a time when most people’s careers bottom out, Angelou then went on to make a name for herself as a poet – and won a Pulitzer Prize nomination for it in 1971.

Feel inadequate yet? Angelou’s also a dancer, composer, playwright, actress, political counselor, and polyglot.

And if that doesn’t satisfy your craving, you can also savor her gems of wisdom two sentences at a time: as of 2002, Angelou has her own line of greeting cards with Hallmark. Ninety percent of the writing is penned specifically for the cards, a task which Angelou has found to be particularly “challenging and daring.” Coming from one of the greatest poets of all time, that’s saying something.

Shmoop Spring 2010 Inaugural Essay Contest


Hey, there! Looking for the latest Shmoop Essay Contest?

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Spring 2010 Essay Contest


— original post below —

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Shmoop announces our first essay contest for high school students.

Answer this question in 500 or fewer words:

In Robert Frost‘s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” …

Examine the relationship between the speaker in the poem and his environment, which includes not only the woods themselves but his horse, the owner of the woods, and the community. Include in your discussion an examination of Frost’s use of language and imagery, focusing on how these contribute to the meaning of the poem and help him to achieve his purpose. Be sure to support your ideas with evidence from the poem.

1 Grand Prize Winner Wins an iPad

3 Runners-Up Get a Shmoop T-Shirt

  • Yeah, it’s no iPad. But you’ll look great. Trust us.

Finalists to be Judged by Jim Burke

  • Jim Burke is a Special Advisor to Shmoop and an all-around awesome English teacher.
  • Mr. Burke teaches AP English Literature and 9th grade College Prep English at Burlingame High School in Burlingame, CA.
  • Mr. Burke is the founder of the English Companion Ning, an online community of 15,000 English teachers.
  • Mr. Burke has published 20 books for English teachers.
  • Check out Jim Burke’s personal website.

Contest Rules

  • Contest open to currently enrolled High School (or Senior High) students (and younger)
  • 500 words maximum
  • Open to students from around the world (as allowed by local law)
  • Entries must be written in English
  • Deadline for entry is May 28, 2010 at 11:59pm Pacific Daylight Time
  • One entry per student and only one student per entry
  • To submit your entry, email your essay as a Word, Text, or PDF document to
    • No other media types will be accepted
    • You must include:
      • Your first and last name
      • Age
      • Your current grade level
      • Name of your English teacher
      • Full name of your high school, plus its main phone number and address
  • By submitting your work to Shmoop, you give Shmoop permission to republish your essay, along with your name, school, city, and state.

The Fine Print

  • No purchase necessary to enter.
  • Contest void where prohibited by law.
  • 1 student per entry (no group submissions allowed). Student must be currently enrolled in High School, Sr. High School, or equivalent (homeschooled students are welcome). If younger students (e.g. Middle School) want to give it a shot, we welcome your submissions, too.
  • Prizes may not be exchanged for cash or other goods and are non-transferable.
  • Finalists and winner will be selected by the sole discretion of Shmoop’s judging panel. Sorry, we cannot provide individual feedback on entries.
  • Can’t Buy Me Love: Shmoop judges do not respond to any attempts to win favor (even if we have major weaknesses for chocolate, cupcakes, and roasted almonds).
  • We’ll make you Interwebs famous: By submitting an entry, you grant Shmoop University, Inc. an irrevocable, worldwide license to publish your work, in part or in its entirety, along with your name, school name, city, and state.
  • Shmoop is all about inspiring original thought… let’s keep this contest clean: By submitting an entry, you confirm that this work is entirely your original work and that you have not received any help from others. If you have relied on any other person or publication’s thoughts to write your essay, you must cite your sources in MLA format. You acknowledge that Shmoop may use an anti-plagiarism service to verify that your essay is original and may inform your school administration if you have submitted plagiarized materials.