Wednesday, May 31, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1819 ~ Walt Whitman is born in West Hills, Long Island.

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—at night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Missing Manuscript?

Charlotte Bronte offered to rewrite parts of "Jane Eyre" after a legal threat from the headmaster of the school on which she based the infamous Lowood school, newly discovered letters show. The letters have raised the prospect that somewhere, tucked away in a dusty attic or a pile of musty papers, could lie an amended manuscript of the 19th-century classic, toned down by the British novelist to avoid a libel lawsuit.
- "Bronte Offered to Do a Rewrite" (Gershwin Wanneberg)

Today's Washington Times has a small story on the front page about a possible revision of Jane Eyre that Bronte might have done after she was criticized for her harsh portrayal of a boarding school in her novel. Apparently she might have written a toned-down sketch and sent it to this man who was offended. Obviously she wasn't bothered enough to change the novel. Brilliant woman. :-)

Friday, May 26, 2006

American Lit Evaluations

Today in 11th grade American Literature, I handed out course evaluation forms. Here are some responses from my students. I think it just goes to show there's no accounting for taste. (Except for the fact that everyone liked Poe!)

Who was your favorite author this year?

T. S. Eliot (crazy and confusing) and Edgar Allan Poe (intriguing)

Poe - he was actually okay

Edgar Allan Poe - he wrote very great works

Poe (great amazingness, awesome horror) and Cummings (I like experimental poetry of this kind)

Poe was the best because he is amazing and Twain was good too

Gilman - "The Yellow Wallpaper" was amazing

Poe, because he's cool; Twain, because he's funny

Whom did you like the least?

Whitman - blech . . . oof . . . just yuck

Thoreau - he was so odd

Ezra Pound - because he's a traitor to our country!

Thoreau - he had no life (and neither did Emily Dickinson)

Thoreau - Walden was so annoying

William Carlos Williams - that guy is a retard

Melville - I absolutely hated him with all my heart, soul, and mind

Which works did you enjoy most?

Call of the Wild and Huckleberry Finn (minus the paper!)

"The Yellow Wallpaper"

Emily Dickinson's poems

"Grasshopper" (Cummings poem)

"The Raven"

The Scarlet Letter; the dramatic stuff

All of Twain's stuff

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Poems - they were shorter

If you could drop one or two works/authors from this course, what would you get rid of?

Some of Emily Dickinson's stuff

"Bartleby" (Melville)

Imagism (20th cent. poetry movement)


New England School Poets

Fewer poems, more novels

Thursday, May 25, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1803 ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson is born in Boston, Massachusetts.

Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctines of the church. On my saying, "What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within?" my friend suggested, "But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied, "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution; the only wrong what is against it. . . .
Emerson's "Self-Reliance" is often regarded as the most influential and most representative essay of the 19th century. His assertions about the nature of man sound rather up-to-date to modern ears. When I teach Emerson, I have to remind my students how shocking some of his statements were. It's also a good reminder that error is never "new." It just gets continually repackaged. Emerson's influence on American Romanticism (and the periods that followed) cannot be measured.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Role Model

This morning I had NPR on as I got ready for the day, half listening as I contemplated (and rejoiced over!) how few remaining days there are until I don't have to get up at that early hour anymore -- well, for at least a few months. And what report should come on to encourage me (and somewhat rebuke me!) but a story of a woman who's been teaching English for nearly 70 years and is just now retiring. It was fabulous! Hazel Haley has been teaching at the same school since 1939. She says that she's seen a decline in students' valuing the acquisition of a body of knowledge; too many are concerned only with what's on the test. But she also comments that while the world has changed, her students have not changed much over the years -- that they struggle with same things that Adam and Eve did. Her story and her love for her students did much to energize me for the day.

You can listen to the story here.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sunday Hymn

All praise to God, who reigns above,
The God of all creation,
The God of wonders, power, and love,
The God of our salvation!
With healing balm my soul He fills,
The God who every sorrow stills,--
To God all praise and glory!

What God's almighty power hath made
His gracious mercy keepeth;
By morning dawn or evening shade
His watchful eye ne'er sleepeth;
Within the kingdom of His might
Lo, all is just and all is right,--
To God all praise and glory!

The Lord forsaketh not His flock,
His chosen generation;
He is their Refuge and their Rock,
Their Peace and their Salvation.
As with a mother's tender hand
He leads His own, His chosen band,--
To God all praise and glory!

Ye who confess Christ's holy name,
To God give praise and glory!
Ye who the Father's power proclaim,
To God give praise and glory!
All idols under foot be trod,
The Lord is God! The Lord is God!
To God all praise and glory!

Then come before His presence now
And banish fear and sadness;
To your Redeemer pay your vow
And sing with joy and gladness:
Though great distress my soul befell,
The Lord, my God, did all things well,--
To God all praise and glory!

Lyrics: Johann J. Schuetz, 1675

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The End is Near

I've started daydreaming vaguely and idealistically about the next school year. Always a bad sign. My brain is beginning to check out.

I have found my "theme verse" for the rest of this year. :-)

Indeed we count them blessed who endure.
(James 5:11)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Childhood Reading

. . . because when you read a book as a child, it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does, and . . . and I've gotten carried away.
~ Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), "You've Got Mail"

A few days ago I was talking with another teacher about books she could read with her six-year-old daughter this summer, and it made me quite nostalgic over books I read when I was younger. Just a few that I loved:

Bread and Jam for Frances
(Russell Hoban)

Little House in the Big Woods
(Laura Ingalls Wilder)

B is for Betsy
(Carolyn Haywood)

What books did you read as a child that you've never forgotten?

Monday, May 15, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1886 ~ Emily Dickinson dies in Amherst, Massachusetts.

I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—
The stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air—
Between the Heaves of Storm—

The Eyes around—had wrung them dry—
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset—when the King
Be witnessed—in the Room—

I willed my Keepsakes—Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable—and then it was
There interposed a Fly—

With Blue—uncertain stumbling Buzz—
Between the light—and me—
And then the Windows failed—and then
I could not see to see—

(#465, c. 1862)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunday Hymn

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!
He, Whose Word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for His own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

See! the streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal love;
Well supply thy sons and daughters,
And all fear of want remove:
Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst t’assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the Giver,
Never fails from age to age.

Round each habitation hovering,
See the cloud and fire appear!
For a glory and a cov’ring
Showing that the Lord is near.
Thus deriving from our banner
Light by night and shade by day;
Safe they feed upon the manna
Which He gives them when they pray.

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, Whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God.
’Tis His love His people raises,
Over self to reign as kings,
And as priests, His solemn praises
Each for a thank offering brings.

Words: John Newton, 1779

Saturday, May 13, 2006

"The Proper Pleasure of Ritual"

"The Solempne [a Middle English word that means something different, but not quite different from modern English solemn] is the festal which is also the stately and the ceremonial, the proper occasion for pomp--and the very fact that pompous is now used only in a bad sense measures the degree to which we have lost the old idea of 'solemnity.' To recover it you must thing of a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people who enjoy them; in an age when every one puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in. Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a widespread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connection with vanity or self-conceit. A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess led out by a king to dance a minuet, a general officer on a ceremonial parade, a major-domo preceding the boar's head at a Christmas feast--all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity. This does not mean that they are vain, but that they are obedient; they are obeying the hoc age which presides over every solemnity. The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender's inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual."

~ probably my most favorite Lewis quote ever and a philosophy that I wish we could all recover more fully
(from A Preface to Paradise Lost, 1942)

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1907 ~ Daphne du Maurier is born in London.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

- opening sentence of Rebecca (1938), a book perhaps best
read in a drafty English castle filled with mysterious noises . . .
but if that can't be accomplished, reading this book late
at night will do just as well.

Friday, May 12, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1812 ~ Edward Lear, an artist and writer who popularized limericks, is born in Highgate, near London. He is his parents' 20th child. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

In 1871, his most famous work, "The Owl and the Pussycat," was published.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.

* * * * *

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Appearances can be deceiving

It looks like a baked potato.

But it's really an ice cream sundae.

What will Martha Stewart think of next?

(My sister Katie told me about this today -- I think she's going to attempt it!)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

~ Ezra Pound

Who knew that such a short poem would provoke such intense response? Poor William Carlos Williams; they're reading his poetry tonight. :-) I am learning after three years of teaching that though my prep time may not be as overwhelming, I will most likely never be able to anticipate student response from year to year.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Footnote Blessings

I've been reading through The Five Books of Moses, a translation of the Pentateuch by Robert Alter. Publishers Weekly said of this translation that "it points to the ways a single Hebrew word can make all the difference in our understanding of the text." And today I experienced that very thing.

I'm in Exodus, and this morning I read chapter 9, which is right in the midst of the account of the Ten Plagues.

And the LORD said to Moses, "Come into Pharaoh and you shall speak to him, 'Thus said the LORD, God of the Hebrews: Send off My people, that they may worship Me. But if you refuse to send them off and you still hold on to them, look, the hand of the LORD is about to be against your livestock which is in the field. against the horses, against the donkeys, against the camels, against the cattle, and against the sheep--a very heavy pestilence.'"

Alter's commentary on the text appears as footnotes at the bottom of each page, often taking up at least half of the page. I'm in the habit of reading the corresponding footnotes as I go through the chapter--though a few of the notes are quite technical, the majority of his comments contribute to a richer understanding of the text. And today, his comment on verse 3 broadened my understanding of God as the I Am.

Here is his footnote:

3. the hand of the Lord is about to be against your livestock.

The Hebrew verb here has a spine-tingling effect for which there is no obvious English equivalent. The verb "to be" in Hebrew is not supposed to have a participial, or present, tense. At this ominous and supernatural juncture, however, that verbal stem "h-y-h" yields an anomalous "hoyah," rendered in this translation as "about to be." This strange usage involves a kind of fearsome pun on the divine name YHWH that was mysteriously highlighted in the Burning Bush episode. God's instrinsic and unique capacity for being, we are made to see, is not just a matter of static condition but an awesome power of action--the hand that is "about to be" against all the livestock of Egypt.

I checked other versions to see how this verb is rendered. The KJV says "the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle," the NIV says, "the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague," the NASB says, "the hand of the Lord will come with a very severe pestilence," and the ESV says "the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague." The NASB is the only one of those versions (at least, in my copies of those versions) with a note by the verb stating, "literally, will be."

Alter has made me more aware than ever before of the concentrated amount of punning that occurs in these early books of the Bible. And so I found this pun on the name of God to be fascinating. I tend to think of "I Am" as a statement more about who God is--it is His state of being; He is the self-existent One. But today I began to think of this title as a statement not simply describing who God is, but what He does. In Exodus 9, the I Am, Defender of His people and Opposer of Pharaoh, is about "to be." And so, no wonder Alter describes this strange verb as "spine-tingling" and "ominous."

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
~ Psalm 20:7

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sunday Hymn

Not What My Hands Have Done

Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

Thy voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace;
Thy power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.
No other work but Thine, no other blood will do;
No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.

Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, and set my spirit free.

I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace; I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, my God, my joy and light.
’Tis He Who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives.

Words: Horatius Bonar, 1861

Saturday, May 06, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1862 ~ Henry David Thoreau dies in Concord, Massachusetts. His last words are "Moose. Indian."

I find Thoreau's last words to be a fitting end for this writer whom I can never teach with an entirely straight face. For while Thoreau addresses issues that most certainly should be considered (the role of civil disobedience, the rush and distractions of life that keep us from self-examination), my students - and I - find the more amusing aspects of his life to be more memorable.

- A year before Thoreau moves to Walden Pond (an experiment which will earn him his reputation as the quintessential nature boy), he accidentally sets fire to the woods near Concord, burning 300 acres and causing $2000 in damages.

- During his time at Walden Pond, he writes his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. He sells only about 200 copies of this work, and the unsold volumes are returned to him (he had paid for their publication). He writes in his journal, “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.”

Less amusing are his other deathbed comments. Asked by his aunt if he had made his peace with God, Thoreau replied, "I did not know that we had quarreled."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Good Advice

"The high-school English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present. He will teach literature, not social studies or little lessons in democracy or the customs of many lands. And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed."

~ Flannery O'Connor

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Coffee and Cookies

That was today's lesson plan in AP Literature. I knew I wouldn't get anything out of my AP students this afternoon. And I can't blame them, considering that they spent three hours this morning holed up in a small room taking the AP English Literature Exam.

There's four teaching weeks left in the school year. But in their minds, since the test is behind them, this class is over. I've been trying to coax them into getting excited about a small unit on the Bible as literature. But while they admit that, yes, that might be interesting, they freely confess that they'd prefer to watch movies.

Tomorrow's lesson plan:

Miss Ruffner - 0

10 tired AP kids - 1

Monday, May 01, 2006

Today's favorite quote

"Poetry provides the one permissable way of saying one thing and meaning another. People say, 'Why don't you say what you mean?' We never do that, do we, being all of us too much poets."

~ Robert Frost, defending the indirectness of poetry (1930)