Teach This Poem is a weekly series featuring a poem from our online poetry collection, accompanied by interdisciplinary resources and activities designed to help K-12 teachers quickly and easily bring poetry into the classroom.
Read the definition of the word sweetness in The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sweetness
Warm-up (pair share): Share with a partner a list of some of your favorite sweet things.
Before Reading the Poem: Read and annotate the definition of sweetness here. Rewrite the definition in your own words. Share your new definition with your partner. Write one revised definition of sweetness together.
Reading the Poem: Read the poem “The Weight of Sweetness” by Li-Young Lee silently. What do you notice about the poem? Annotate for any words or phrases that stand out to you or any questions you might have.
Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud twice, and write down any additional words and phrases that stand out to you. Call back the lines that you like by saying these lines aloud with your group.
Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with your partner and another pair of students. How might the speaker in the poem define “the weight of sweetness”?
Whole-class Discussion: How might you describe the father and son’s relationship in the poem? What do you think that the word “death” means in these lines: “Hold the peach, try the weight, sweetness / and death so round and snug / in your palm”?
Extension for Grades 7-8: Pick out five important words in the poem. Write an essay about the denotation and connotation of these words. (Teachers, if you haven’t introduced denotation and connotation, now might be a good time to do so.)
Extension for Grades 9-12: Read more Li-Young Lee poems such as Eating Together, The Hammock, Little Father, A Story, From Blossoms, and Eating Alone. Write an essay that compares and contrasts “The Weight of Sweetness” to another Lee poem of your choice.
More Context for Teachers
In this interview with Tina Chang, Li-Young Lee talks about his relationship to language, poetry, and his father. “When I was little [my father] used to make us read from the Bible. He would put us on his chair, and as we read, he would take these little butterscotch things. He would smack them on the table, and open them up, and they'd be broken. It would be the book of Daniel, and he'd take a piece and pop it in my mouth when I was reading. He called that ‘sweet learning.’” Read more.