To Hold

by Li-Young Lee

Photo by Donna L. Lee

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Mortality

Step 1

Start by reading “To Hold” by Li-Young Lee. When you’re done, briefly discuss the attitude of the speaker throughout the piece. How do they feel about their “situation”?

Step 2

Ask your students, “What are you doing when you’re accepted the fact that you’re “dust”? How can (or does) your mortality affect the way you live life?” Briefly discuss.

Step 3

Say, “Focus on a specific “thing” that you’d like to “spend time with” in the face of your own mortality. What’s the one “thing” you really cherish? Jot down as many reasons why it means so much to you.” Then give your students a few minutes to brainstorm.

Step 4

Ask your students to compose a poem similar in sentiment to “To Hold” in which they address their mortality and how they choose to commit your time/energy in the face of it.

Step 5

When the students are done, have them share their responses with one another.

The full presentation may be found HERE.

Analytical Lesson

Area of Focus: Structure (Syntax)

Step 1

If your students are not aware of how the “structure’ of a poem affects its meaning – particularly the syntactical elements – review the introductory lesson.

Step 2

Start by showing your students the following video.

Step 3

When the video is done, ask your students to think of times when it would be appropriate to use “short syntax” in a piece of writing. Then ask them when it would make sense to use “longer syntax.” Briefly discuss the different stylistic approaches and when they should be considered.

Step 4

Have your students open the following document and go over the instructions with them. For this part of the assignment, your students are going to look at an “early draft” of Li-Young Lee’s poem, “To Hold,” and create syntactical edits where they deem appropriate.

Step 5

When you’ve gone over the instructions, give your students 30 minutes to complete this part of the assignment. They should complete this part of the assignment individually.

Step 6

Now assemble your students into groups of 4. Have them briefly talk about the edits they made and why they made them.

Step 7

After their discussion, project the actual poem on the board. Read it with your students.

Step 8

When you’ve read the poem aloud, have your students talk about the piece with their group members. Did any of their edits resemble the original poem? Did anything differ? Why is the original piece punctuated in that manner? What effect does it create? Give them a few minutes to chat.

Step 9

When your students have discussed the poem, have them share a few of their insights or takeaways with the rest of the class.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Structure (Syntax)


  • Aging
  • Appreciation
  • Death / Grief
  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Joy
  • Love

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Selection of Detail
  • Structure (Syntax)
  • Tone