Friday, October 26, 2007

I Cried in Class Today...

Yes, it's true. In my Introduction to Literature class, I broke down and
nearly sobbed. I was teaching Wordsworth's poem "LINES COMPOSED A FEW MILES ABOVE TINTERN ABBEY, ON REVISITING THE BANKS OF THE WYE DURING A TOUR. JULY 13, 1798." The picture is a view of Tintern Abbey and the countryside around it. Though the poem is long, I like to read aloud most of it, stopping at sections to ask them questions and point out imagery and meaning. I'm fine until I reach the last section of the poem. Then, as I read and get closer to the bottom, I can't help but tear up, my voice thickens with emotion, and eventually I have to stop completely and try to regain my composure. I usually cannot and have to finish out the poem with a voice warped with tears. I am so moved by his sentiments, expressed to his sister Dorothy. And the truth and beauty in what he says is incredibly potent: life is cruel, and we must protect ourselves from that which seeks to take us further from our true selves, the part of us closest to "god" (however you define him/her/it). This cruelty can be in fake friendship (you know - the person who is sweet as honey to your face but vicious as a wasp sting to your back), those who judge us unkindly or act superior to us, or just the weariness that accompanies the daily grind. And when he gets to the part that says even if she is lonely, or afraid, or sad, she can think of him - no matter how far he is (even if he is dead) and the remembrance of this moment they are sharing by the Wye River will sing in her soul and refresh her spirits, and all of the negativity around her will fall into place - she'll remember what is truly important in life, not the importance people place on petty issues. Well, I'll let you read it.

I've pasted them below. I could excuse my emotionalism on the stressful 2 weeks, but I have to confess that I usually tear up when I get to these lines. I warned the class to expect a similar, though less teary, reaction when we read "Ulysses" by Tennyson.

Of course, the benefit is that it shows them how moving great literature can, and should, be. I hope they see that I truly believe what I tell them about the power of literature. Just as I laugh at some poems, and I get righteously indignant or angry with the authors of other poems/stories, I guess it's okay to cry as well.

So here it is:

and this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings. Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance--
If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence--wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service: rather say
With warmer love--oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love. Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!