Culture · Education · Poetry

My Most Memorable Teaching Moment

A field of grass

We were studying the stanza from Wordsworth’s poem The Tables Turned which sums up his philosophy. It is so significant a passage that in my opinion every young person should be familiar with it.

One Impulse from a vernal wood
Can Teach you more of man
Of moral evil and of good
Than all the sages can.

However, in the middle of my disquisition, the fire bell rang. We all knew that drill. Students immediately arose from their seats and started leaving the room (“walk, do not run”) to the nearest stairwell, followed by me, the teacher, who shut my door. Upon exiting the stairwell, we proceeded to our predesignated spot in the backyard of the school where we waited for the all-clear bell to ring. 

It was a large school—two buildings—so we had to wait there quite awhile. We returned the same way, and when I, bringing up the rear, arrived, all the students were seated. And on my desk was a collection of twigs, leaves, clumps of grass, weeds—whatever my students could manage to find in the backyard to represent Wordsworth’s vernal wood.  

It nearly brought me to tears because it showed me that first of all they had been listening, maybe even starting to understand, and also that they knew me so well that they realized I would relish the joke. 

Today those seventeen-year-olds are grandparents (don’t ask me how that happened!) and I often wonder if any of them, while walking through the grass, are reminded of that time so long ago when they made their teacher’s day. 

mourning · Poetry

The Last Word on Mourning

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Poetry

Outside My Window—

Construction on the 16-story apartment building has come to a halt. An occasional car passes by, and a few people are out walking their dogs, but nobody is running downhill to catch the commuter train to New York City. Nothing seems to be happening, yet this morning when I raised the shade, I witnessed a miracle in progress! Tiny leaves are making their appearance on the oak tree outside my window, and the tree is wearing a light green halo.

It reminded me of a poem Herb wrote that will appear in a forthcoming volume of poetry—Poems and Prayers—now in the hands of the book designer.

MAGIC

How strange that we applaud a fake

as he unspools a ribbon from his ear

or pulls a rabbit from his hat

But yawn next morning when we wake

and see a universe appear

from nothing, just like that!

I hadn’t intended to be back at the blog so soon, but wanted to share this thought. The certainty of the return of spring and the summer to come is surely a comfort in what, to say the least, is a most uncertain time.

****************

I’m working on understanding the Victorian woman, trying to get inside her head. More on this subject to come.

paintings · Poetry · Technology

Another Take on Conversation

About the same time as I was writing my last post on the importance of conversation, Herb was working on a post of the same subject for his blog. We didn’t plan it that way. That sort of thing happens when you’ve been married a long time. Here, from his blog, paintingsandpoems.home.blog:

SOLITUDE IS NO SOLUTION

Herb Knapp

THE MIND
Birds, bees, termites, ants, and molds
taken singly are brainless things,
but when they come together with their kind,
they act as if directed by a mind.
We, however, lose our minds in crowds,
grow drunkenly ambitious, start to build
stairways to the stars, or try to kill
our neighbors, pillage stores, set fire to cars.
Solitude is no solution though.
A mountain man’s a crowd of one,
who follows his uncontradicted will, 
as mindless as an ant without a hill.
Our minds are fragile, easily destroyed
by noise or silence, griefs or celebrations.
For minds to flourish, they must be employed
regularly in rambling conversations.

Below iis a conversation between men called “The Long Story” by William Sidney Mount.

And here is a painting of a conversation between two women called “Conversation” by the twentieth century painter Milton Avery.

Thomas Traherne: “The world is best enjoyed and most immediately while we converse blessed and wisely with men.”

Jonathan Edwards: “The being of society, as such, is conversation.”

Michael Oakeshott: “Learning to be human is learning to participate in the conversation of mankind.” 

Poetry

It Happened Last Night Outside My Window

Last night the ginkgo

Paved our street with golden fans.

We step carefully.

Usually it happens later in November. But it happened last night on the street where we live. The two ginkgo trees outside the window decided “that’s it! we’re out of here!” and dropped all their leaves.

Ginkgos do this. Unlike modern trees like the maples, oaks, and beeches, which put on a dazzling show of color and then turn brown and gradually drop their leaves, the gingko opts for a dramatic all-at-once exit. No one knows why they do it this way. They say it somehow has to do with its antiquity and the way it has evolved since before the days of the dinosaurs.

The gingko is a tough tree, able to withstand a lot of abuse, which is why you find so many of them on New York City streets. And when it’s time to go, they do it with authority and get the hell off stage. And you know then that winter is really around the corner. Time to get out the humidifiers and the Verilux sun lamp.

Late in November, on a single night

Not even near to freezing, the gingko trees

That stand along the walk drop all their leaves

In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind

But as though to time alone: the golden and green

Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday

Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.

Howard Nemerov