Readers of Ally Condie’s bestsellers Matched (a 2011 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, among the 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults titles, a 2011 Readers’ Choice Nomination, and among the 2011 Teens’ Top Ten) and Crossed will know that poetry plays a key role in these dystopian tales. The Society in which heroine Cassia Reyes lives controls choice with an iron hand, to the extent that there are only 100 acceptable poems. Knowing or possessing a copy of an off-list poem is a crime. Cassia’s dying grandfather shares with her Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” a forbidden poem that inspires her to start asking questions–the most dangerous act in a totalitarian state.
In the sequel, Crossed, another banned poem, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar,” is the rallying cry of the Rebellion. Tennyson writes of the Pilot, whom he hopes to “see face to face” as God, and the bar to be crossed as that between life and death. In Crossed, rebels speak of “the Pilot” as the leader who will direct their Rising, and the bar to be crossed is that between the repressive present and the idealized past.
Condie’s use of poetry made me think about other novels in which authors use poems as integral parts of the story. The first book that came to mind was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (the 1988 Margaret A. Edwards Award Winner; the book made the 2006 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list) and the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost. Ponyboy shares it with his friend Johnny when they are hiding out after Johnny accidentally kills another boy. It perfectly expresses the boys’ tenuous circumstances and the fleeting nature of youth and innocence, the “dawn that goes down to day.”