A Lesson on Gesture with "Memento"



In this lesson students will:

  • Compare physical and written gestures
  • Investigate indirect methods of communicating an emotion in poetry
  • Write a poem about a personal memento



If one of the jobs of poetry is to say the unsayable, and to say it with efficiency and grace, then among the human tools of communication, poetry has much in common with gesture. Through physical gestures, we can, in the space of a moment, exchange ideas where words fall short: we roll our eyes, shrug our shoulders, place a finger to our lips, put our hands in the air, raise a fist. A poem can attempt to do on the page what a gesture does through a body, simply and quietly conveying an emotional message.


Encountering the Poem

  1. Have students close their eyes while you read this poem aloud, asking them to focus on visualizing the image described in the poem.
  2. Ask students what is most striking to them about the image they conjured, or the poem itself.
  3. The speaker of this poem does not directly express any emotion or betray any relationship to the person who has left the note. Have students discuss how the poem indirectly tells us about the speaker's feelings about or connection to this person.
    1. What effects does this indirect method of communicating have on your experience of the poem?
  4. Although it is only seven lines, this poem is densely packed with layers of gesture. Have students identify various gestures that are contained within the poem. Responses might include:
    1. The gesture of leaving a sweet note for someone at their door
    2. The gesture of the leaf changing from one color to another
    3. The gesture the dancers' bodies make in the bed
    4. The gestures of the original dance
  5. Discuss the ways in which this poem is itself like a gesture.
    1. How is the form of the poem suited to its content?
    2. In what ways is the poem "quiet"?


Writing Prompt

Give students 5-10 minutes to write freely about a memento of their own—an object that they have kept as a reminder of a special person or special time in their life. Encourage them to write more about the object—what it looks and feels like, where they keep it, how they first encountered it—than the person or time it reminds them of. When they have a full page or so of writing, ask them to go back through what they've written and underline two or three sentences that would best help someone conjure an image of their memento, like we did when reading the poem aloud at the beginning of the activity. Have students use these sentences to make a poem of no more than 10 lines, revising the sentences for sound and flow, but filling in only as much as necessary to make the sentences make sense together.


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