Tackling loneliness: poems and songs you could use

I often use song lyrics in poetry lessons. Usually I would examine the text first and only play the song to the children at the end of the lesson. A really interesting session on loneliness can be had by using a couple of popular songs and linking them to poems on the same theme.

You could begin with a picture portraying loneliness or solitude, such as this. Ask the children to talk about what is going on. Ask them to come up with three adjectives describing how the man is feeling. Make a list of this vocabulary on the board. Discuss why this man is begging, what might have happened in his life. Ask the children if they have seen homeless people on the streets, especially in busy towns or cities.


Then hand out the lyrics of The Streets of London, a folk song written and performed by Ralph McTell. Here’s the first verse:

Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
Hand held loosely at his side
Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news

You can find the full lyrics here.

Read through all of the lyrics. Use the Questions Cards for a Poem approach if that helps. Ask pairs to come up with ideas why these people are homeless. Ask them about their favourite phrases in the song, such as “Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news”. Can you add any more vocabulary to the list on the board?

Then play the children the video of the song (written in 1970). This includes an interesting interview with Ralph McTell explaining why he wrote the song and why it has lasted so long.

At this stage, children could be thinking about their own poem, based on a character feeling alone. An old person who is bereaved? A homeless young person in a city? A child in a new school without friends? Their poem could begin: Have you seen…?

If you want to develop this further, look at The Beatles’ song Eleanor Rigby, (written in 1966) and its refrain:

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Find the full lyrics here. Who was Eleanor Rigby? Why was Father McKenzie also alone? How did their stories come together? Who is lonely in society today? What can we do to help them? The song is seen as a lament for lonely people and a comment on post-war society.

There is a brilliant cover version of the song by Ray Charles here:

Children could compare the two songs. Which is most effective? Which is your favourite line in either song? Why were the songs so popular?

If you wish to bring in a poem which looks at the issue of loneliness, you could look at Alone in the Grange by Gregory Harrison. I have a separate page looking at how you could use this page.