Searching for Meaning Beneath the Surface of the Poem

Lesson 1 from Soccer Until Dusk

Students will examine the poem and compare perspectives of the author and the subjects of his poem.

About the Poem

In "Soccer Until Dusk," Brazaitis reflects on the stark differences between the life his father chose and that of the men who gather after lunch each day in Santa Cruz Verapaz to play soccer all afternoon. Brazaitis describes his father as a White House reporter who finds it difficult to comprehend the relaxed work ethic that exists in the small Guatemalan village. The author compares his father's ambitious career with his own fond remembrance of the leisurely afternoon soccer games he watched as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

About This Lesson Plan

This poem provides an apt comparison with the story "The Meaning of Time." Both pieces explore how culture influences the way people use time, and both provide contrasts between life in the United States and in other cultures. Just as the pace of life in Guinea is slow moving, so too is it in Santa Cruz Verapaz, Guatemala—the setting of "Soccer Until Dusk." Generally speaking, in these cultures, taking enough time to greet people, to talk with them, or to help them is considered more important than rushing to be on time for a meeting or another event. And the efficient use of time, in general, is much less important there than in many industrialized cultures.

About the Setting

Guatemala is the most populous of the Central American countries. Almost 14 million people live there in an area about the size of Tennessee. Guatemala has coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

More than half of Guatemalans are descendants of the Maya. Many are of mixed Spanish and other European descent. Although many live in rural areas, urbanization is steadily increasing as rural Guatemalans seeking employment move into cities. Nearly 1.5 million live in the capital, Guatemala City. Throughout the country, there is a contrast between the old and the new. In the capital, home to major television stations and newspapers, there are skyscrapers, supermarkets, and streets crowded with cars and buses. In contrast, Santa Cruz Verapaz, the rural town of 4,000 people where Brazaitis served as a Volunteer, had few modern conveniences.

The Peace Corps program in Guatemala, which began in 1963, is one of the agency's oldest. Nearly 4,000 Volunteers have served in Guatemala. Volunteers are focusing their efforts on helping rural communities move from subsistence to small-scale commercial agriculture, manage and conserve natural resources, improve health and nutrition, and increase off-farm incomes. To learn more about the work of the Peace Corps in Guatemala, visit the country-information section of the Peace Corps website


  • To help interpret the meaning of the poem "Soccer Until Dusk"
  • To explore the influence of culture on how people use time


  • Testaments: tributes; statements about something's worth
  • Gandhi: a 1982 film about the life of Mohandas Gandhi, who used nonviolence to bring about the independence of India. Gandhi's philosophy stressed service to others and the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty. Gandhi lived a simple life with few material possessions. 


  1. A day or two before you address the poem, videotape a segment from a national news program featuring a journalist reporting from Washington, D.C., preferably from the White House. Show the video clip in the classroom and ask students how they think one would go about getting a job similar to this reporter's. Ask whether they think they'd like a job like this.
  2. Using the information from the background, introduce the author, the poem, and the setting. Have students locate Guatemala on a world map. If students have not heard of the Peace Corps, provide background information.
  3. Have students read silently through the sentence about the movie Gandhi. Then read the poem aloud to the same point. Discuss this section of the poem, addressing the following questions. Ask students to cite evidence from the text to support their opinions.
    • What are the positive aspects of the father's job?
    • What clues does the poem give about the effect of a reporter's job on the author's parents' marriage? On the father's relationship with his son? On the father himself?
    • Why does the father work such long hours?
    • How does Brazaitis view his father's job? What evidence do you see for your opinion?
    • Who was Gandhi?
    • Why does the movie about Gandhi affect the father? Do you think the father gave his possessions away as he considered doing?
  1. Have students read the rest of the poem silently. Then read it aloud to them, with cadence and feeling. Have the class discuss this section of the poem, using some or all of the following prompts:
    • Describe the soccer games that the men of Guatemala play in the afternoons.
    • Why does the father give Brazaitis "a stern look" when Brazaitis tells him about the games?
    • Why does Brazaitis call his surroundings "another world"? What world is he referring to?
    • If students have read "The Meaning of Time," ask them how they think the culture of Santa Cruz Verapaz, described by Brazaitis, compares to the culture of Guinea, described by Kimberly Ross.
    • How do you think the men playing soccer view time?
  1. Read aloud the following line from Kimberly Ross's description of life in the United States compared with life in Guinea.

    In the U.S., life tends to be fast paced and always changing. Also, we Americans generally put work before play. Guinean customs and perspectives of the world are almost the complete opposite of ours. Life is slow moving and things rarely follow a set schedule.Ask students if they can think of reasons some cultures are more task-oriented and work-driven than others. Why do some people choose to work more than they have to? In some cultures, do people have a choice over how much time they spend working? Do people struggling to emerge from poverty and to provide for their families in the United States and other cultures have a choice over how much time they spend at work?
  2. Journal Activity. Ask students to respond in their journals to the following questions:Have students compare their journal responses in small groups. Then conduct a class discussion focused on these questions.
    • In focusing on work the way Brazaitis's father does, what is gained? What is lost?
    • In focusing on leisure time the way the men playing soccer do, what is gained? What is lost?
    • What do you think Brazaitis wanted you to be thinking about as he wrote this poem?
    • How do you think he was feeling about his father? About Guatemala? About the soccer players?
  1. Journal Activity. For homework, ask students to select the two or three lines in the poem that had the strongest impact on them and to describe in their journals the thoughts, feelings, and questions these lines evoked. Model to the class what you'd like students to do by doing a "think-aloud" demonstration for the class. For example, tell the class you chose the lines, "I don't argue; I never have. / Instead, I remember how I followed Pablo / And his father one afternoon to the stadium." Then say to the class something like this:

    These lines make me wonder why Brazaitis doesn't tell his father he disagrees with him. They make me wonder whether Brazaitis thinks his father will never change. I wonder whether Brazaitis changed his attitude toward work as a result of the time he spent in Guatemala. What if his father had gone to Guatemala? I wonder if he would have changed his attitude toward work. This makes me ask myself: How do we know when we've worked hard enough? How do we know when we've played enough?

Frameworks & Standards

Enduring Understandings

  • The concept of time differs among cultures.

Essential Questions

  • How does our culture influence the way we choose to spend time?
  • Why do some people choose to work more than they have to?
  • What makes a well-balanced life?
  • What can be learned from the way people in other cultures view and spend time?


English Standards: 1,2
Social Studies Standards: I, IV
National Geography Standard: 10
For more information on the standards in Uncommon Journeys, see the Appendix (pdf—160 KB, linked to above).

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