Opening Activity

Think of a time when you noticed an apparently needy person. How did you determine he or she was in need? How did you respond to the situation?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it assumed that the speaker can easily know what the murdered lady kept in her sack? Why doesn’t the speaker guess what the contents were?
  2. What other assumptions are made in the poem? About the ladies with bags? About the men who lay their things on the ground? About the speaker?
  3. Why does the lady stand an equal distance from the bum on the bench and the speaker? What does the speaker mean when she says that the lady is “Standing in our attention as if it were a palpable thing./Like the city itself or the cold winter”?
  4. What does the speaker mean in saying that if there is disgrace in the situation, “it was God’s” and if there was failure, it "was ours”?
  5. For the speaker, what is “the most important place we have yet devised”?
  6. What responsibilities do we have for those we observe in need on the street?
  7. Is it necessary to ask for help to receive help?
  8. In giving and receiving, is it possible to do either without making judgments or assumptions?

Closing Activity

If you could ask a question of anyone in the poem, who would you choose and what would your question be?

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