In-class Teaching Activity (Poem) : Find the Right Order (Close Reading variation)

Goal:  This activity is designed for introductory-level students who are used to reading a poem for content, but not to the way a poem opens up imagery, narrative, setting, and voice.  This short activity introduces them to paying closer attention to the form of a given poem, as well as start thinking about a poet’s thought process.  With this particular poem by Cowdry, focusing on the “turn” of the poem offers a way to lead students to think about the sonnet, and compare the difference in balance between the Octet-Sestet formation and Three stanzas-One stanza.

Instructions:  This is a group activity.   Make a handout of a poem they read for class, mixing up the order of the stanzas.   Ask students to work from memory, and discuss what order the actual poem might be.  Ask to consider how repeated phrases, sound, imagery connect.  Discuss as class what they found to be the determining factors. Depending on the poem, students may confidently come up with a different order from the actual poem.    If different from Cowdry’s own order, ask them what do they think that their order allows you to do.

Example: “Insatiate,”  Mae V. Cowdry


If her thoughts were arrows

Ever speeding true

Into the core of my mind,

And her voice round notes of melody

No nightingale or lark

Could ever hope to sing…

Not even these would be enough to keep my constancy.


But if my love did whisper

Her song into another’s ear

Or place the tip of one pink nail

Upon another’s hand,

Then would I forever be

A willing prisoner…

Chained to her side by uncertainty!


If my love were meat and bread

And sweet cool wine to drink,

They would not be enough,

For I must have a finer table spread

To sate my entity.


D)       If her lips were rubies red,

            Her eyes two sapphires blue,

            Her fingers ten sticks of white jade,

            Coral tipped…and her hair of purple hue

            Hung down in a silken shawl…

            They would not be enough

            To fill the coffers of my need.