Subject: Literature/Poetry

Ages: 14+

Length: Snippet: Three clips totaling ten minutes; Lesson: two 45 – 55 minute class periods plus time to write the concluding essay.

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Students will learn to use the Say, Mean, Matter method of poetry analysis and practice their explication skills in a formal essay. They will become familiar with poems written by Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”, Jane Kenyan, “Let Evening Come”, and e. e. cummings, “i carry your heart with me.”


Language arts standards require students to be able to interpret poetry. Snippets from these poems can be used to teach and exercise this skill. Poetry recited in a film not only has a context, it has sound; poetry in a film can serve to communicate meaning with more clarity than words on a page. Students are inclined to pay attention to recitations of poetry done by popular actors or actresses.


In a story about the conflicts faced by two very different sisters, poetry is used to illustrate how confidence can help heal relationships. The pretty, free-spirited sister is dyslexic and has suffered from her inability to read. The plain, educated sister has suffered from having to care for her younger sister as well as from her expectation that things will go wrong. The poems help the younger sister learn to read and help the sisters regain the love they shared as children before circumstances and their differences between drew them apart. The first film clip shows the dyslexic sister learning to read a poem; the second shows her reading another poem and the third clip shows her reciting a poem at her sister’s wedding. Each poem has important contextual meaning.


1. Review the film clips and to make sure they are suitable for the class. Review the Lesson Plan and decide how to present it to students, making any necessary modifications.

2. Become familiar with the location of the clips on the DVD. Cue the DVD to the first clip of the snippet, DVD scene 17. The final clip starts three minutes into DVD Scene 26. What occurs in these three minutes is not relevant to the presentation of the poem and may confuse students. This might be a good place to turn the sound down and prepare the class for the upcoming poem.

3. Photocopy the three poems used in the film. They can be found on the Internet at “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop, “Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon, and “I carry your heart” by E.E. Cummings.

4. To prepare to present the lesson information on the process of Say, Mean, Matter, an effective tool for students to use when they analyze poetry as follows.


1. Introduce the lesson and orient the class to its place in the curriculum. A suggestion is set out below:

Poetry is one of the major forms of artistic expression. The words of poetry are used for its esthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or instead of, its apparent meaning. Many people believe that poetry predates writing. In this lesson we’ll look at some of the ways that you can analyze poetry and find the meaning of poems.

2. Developing a Definition of Poetry — Engage students in creating a definition of poetry upon which the class can agree. The students must be turned away from the notion that poetry is whatever you want it to be. A definition of poetry should include the following:

Poetry is art, meaning that its intention is to appeal to the aesthetic sense.

Poetry uses words which sound good together. It appeals to the ears.

Poetry uses a form other than paragraphs. It appeals to the eye.

Poetry communicates an idea or an image. It appeals to the mind.

3. Introduce the Say, Mean, Matter Method of Poetry Analysis – There are many effective methods available to help students interpret the meaning of poems. The technique referred to as Say, Mean, Matter is especially helpful because it draws upon prior knowledge of language and personal experience in order to derive theme from a poem. This method of interpretation asks students to figure out what a poet is literally saying, what he or she means by what is said, and why any of this matters to the reader.

Say, Mean, Matter uses the following steps:

Say: Students should write precise paraphrases of each verse in order to determine what the author is saying.

Mean: Students should then attempt to find meaning in what is said. This is often a matter of paying attention to diction and the feeling that lies behind the words.

Matter: Students should be able to write a sentence about how the poet’s words matter, in terms of the lives of the reader or audience. When the poem matters, theme is easy to find.

4. Model the Use of Say, Mean, Matter — TWM suggests using Muhammad Ali’s famous two-word poem


This is a poem because it is concerned with an aesthetic means of communicating an important theme, it uses rhyme, and its theme is accessible. No one will argue that this is an especially high-quality poem; but everyone must agree that it is, in fact, a poem. It is perfect for the practice of interpretation.

The first line says a word that refers to the poet himself and the second line says an expression of joy. These two words mean that the poet is happy with himself. These two words matter because it is important to have self-esteem. Thus, follows the theme of the poem, self-esteem is a joy, a wonderful thing to have.

After this light-hearted exercise, the class will be ready to tackle the more difficult poems heard in the snippet.

5. Introduce the Snippet — Provide a limited explanation of the storyline in the movie. TWM suggests giving the following explanation:

This movie is about two sisters who were once very close. Rose, the older sister, is plain but practical and successful in her career. Maggie, the younger sister, is pretty but dyslexic and still has difficulty reading. They have become estranged after an incident of betrayal by Maggie, who is now working as an aide in a rest home. The first part of the snippet shows Maggie in the room of an old, dying professor who used to teach poetry. With his help, Maggie discovers that she can succeed at reading. The second part of the snippet shows Maggie reading another poem to the old man. At the end of the film, the sisters become reconciled. The last part of the snippet shows Maggie reciting a poem at Rose’s wedding.

Any additional explanation of events in the movie runs the risk of distracting students from the poetry.

6. Play the First Film Clip — Start at DVD scene 17 and let the movie run for six minutes until Maggie is finished analyzing the poem and the old professor has given her a grade.

7. Free Writing Assignment — Give the students five minutes to write freely about the snippet. Tell them to address the question of the meaning of the poem, how the professor helped Maggie to understand the poem, and the feeling of esteem she gained from the experience.

8. Analyze the Poem — Distribute “One Art” to the class. Point out the elements that define the poem as a villanelle, which is a 19 line poem which consists of five tercets and a concluding quatrain. This genre of poetry further requires a specific pattern of repeated lines and only two rhymes are heard in the entire poem. It is a difficult form of poetry requiring the author to adhere rigidly to strict rules. Some critics assert that Bishop used this form to show the effort to control the effects of losing, to keep in check the notion and expectation of loss.

9. Apply Say, Mean, Matter to “One Art” — Ask students, either working in groups or alone, to follow the Say, Mean, Matter process with “One Art.” In each verse they must paraphrase the author’s words and then suggest what the author is saying, discover what the poet means and, finally, how this information may matter to the students in their own lives. This process was made apparent in the snippet. The young woman told the professor, at his prodding, what the writer was saying in so far as she understood it. This is completely appropriate for poetry which is a personal interaction between art and observer. Have students replicate this process.

10. Deleted Lines — Students may note which lines, even whole verses, were edited out of the recitation in the snippet. Discuss whether this was appropriate. Answers will vary, and there is no right or wrong response.

11. More Interpretation of “One Art” — In the snippet the professor asks the young woman if the loss was potential or probable, whether it had already happened or whether the loss was yet to come. No answer is given to this important question. It should also be asked of the students. They need to think about the use of the words “shant have lied.” They need to think about why the last line includes “(Write it!)” and how this parenthetical expression may be a reference to the poet’s own experience. Many critics think that this, Elizabeth Bishop’s last poem, is about what is lost in the process of writing, how difficult it is to finish something, and how once a poem is finished, it is lost to the author. Another interpretation is that the parenthetical phrase stresses the difficulty of allowing oneself to admit the emotional pain of losing someone or something that was important. There are many interpretations of poetry, all of them acceptable.

12. Play the Second Film Clip — Once the students have been successful in finding personal meaning in “One Art”, they are ready to move onto the second snippet and Jane Kenyon’s poem “Let Evening Come”. Very little of this poem is used in the film. The result of hearing the poem may be to provoke the viewers to find the poem that is being alluded to and discover its meaning. The poem is important to the changes being experienced by the young woman and the dying man. Understanding the allusion to Jane Kenyon’s poem can help students become aware of the value of literary allusion. Play the clip, beginning at DVD scene 21. The clip is one minute into the scene and lasts for 50 seconds.

13. Apply Say, Mean, Matter to “Let Evening Come” — Distribute the poem in its entirety and have students apply the Say, Mean, Matter method of figuring out meaning, either in a free write or orally.

14. Analyzing “Let Evening Come” – Step 1 — Tell students that imagery, the use of mental pictures created by description, is the most important poetic device used in this poem. Ask them to write down everything they can see in the tercets. They can see the following:

Light shining through chinks in a barn
A cricket
A woman knitting
Dew on a hoe in long grass
The moon
A fox in a sandy den
A dark shed
A bottle in a ditch
A scoop in oats

15. Analyzing “Let Evening Come” – Step 2 — Ask students which line is repeated. They will answer, “Let evening come,” which is also the title of the poem.

16. Analyzing “Let Evening Come” – Step 3 — Have the students explore the idea of evening. What happens in evening? How do we feel about evening? What could evening represent?

17. Analyzing “Let Evening Come” – Step 4 — This poem is about letting go of fear and allowing what will happen to happen, even if that is the end, or death, like the end of the day. It is important to the young woman in the movie for two reasons: the old man is dying and she is changing. Evening is a time of change, when things are not seen clearly, a period of transition between light and dark, day and night. Another valid interpretation is that she is accepting the loss of her relationship with her sister. The poem tells the young woman not to be afraid.

18. Analyzing “Let Evening Come” – Step 5 — Instead of a formal paper, have the students write reflections on any transition periods or changes that have occurred in their lives. Have them write about that unclear, darkening period between the decision to change and the change itself. Maybe they will write about relationships or moving from junior high to high school. Give them an example from your life if it is appropriate.

19. Another Assignment: Have students use images from their own lives to give meaning to “Let Evening Come”. The images in the poem are rural. Students may want to describe scenes from an urban and more timely environment.

20. Play the Third Clip — After students have worked on the second poem and completed their reflections, show the last clip. This begins three minutes into DVD scene 26 and lasts for three minutes. The scene begins at the shot of Rose’s shoes as she walks to the wedding ceremony and ends as the newly weds drive away.

21.Thinking About “I carry your heart with me.” — e. e. cummings paid no attention to rules and he can be very confusing to those trying to find meaning in his work. However, the recitation of the poem in the film is so well done that it clearly communicates the fact that this is a love poem. The final verse spells it out directly. Distribute the poem and allow students time to read it or have it read out loud by volunteers from the class. Ask students to suggest a reason that the following two lines were edited from the poem. Answers will vary.

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

22. Apply Say, Mean, Matter to “I carry your heart with me.” — Ask the students to use the Say, Mean, Matter process only on the last verse and the single line at the poem’s end. They will have no problem discovering the meaning. The image of the dyslexic sister reciting a poem with confidence to a sister she had betrayed is dramatic. Apology accepted. Love is communicated clearly.


This assessment also includes elements of independent practice in that students will be asked to apply what they have learned.

Students can be assigned the following projects either in class or as homework. Specify the length and complexity of the assignment depending on available time, skill levels of the students and how this lesson fits into the curriculum.

1. In groups, have students find biographical information about each of the poets. One member of the group should share the information with the rest of the class. Each remaining member of the class should present another poem written by the author assigned to his or her group. Readings of the poems found should be carefully practiced so that delivery can help communicate meaning.

2. Have the students find a poem written by one of the authors studied and display it on a poster on which they help illustrate the poem’s meaning by displaying images from magazines or photographs or even original art of their own.

3. Select a poem written by one of the authors studied and have the students write a formal explication based upon an understanding gleaned from using the Say, Mean, Matter system of analysis.

4. The following is a prompt from an English Literature Advance Placement test asking the students to address Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” The students are given 35 minutes to write the essay:

Write an essay in which you describe how the speaker’s attitude toward loss in lines 16-18 is related to her attitude toward loss in lines 1-15. Using specific references to the text, show how verse form and language contribute to the reader’s understanding of these attitudes.

This Snippet Lesson Plan was written by Mary RedClay with assistance from James Frieden.

It was last revised on July 17, 2009.

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