Monday, January 16, 2012

Hope is the thing with feathers...reminisces of poetry class

HOPE is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard; 5
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea; 10
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Thanks to the folks at, I have access to Emily Dickinson. I found her this morning in my Modern Poems anthology (she is a precursor to the moderns, with Walt Whitman, Yeats, Gerard Manley Hopkins...) This poem was not in the poems anthologized, nor the one I was looking for, I don't know what it was. I'd know it when I saw it.

I need to get a copy of Miss Dickinson's poetry in book form, but for now, the Internet will do. My Modern Poetry class was my sophomore year at Carlow, and Sister Maureen was my professor. She never gave A's, but I got them from her. It was about that time that I realized I needed a harder school. I wish I had gone to see her after I'd graduated. She died...I should find out more about that, maybe. Her class was where I became an English major. I loved dissecting the poems, looking for why THAT word. She taught us that in a poem, every word means something. So you might as well look up every word in the dictionary, because it's possible that the poet did. Nothing is a mistake, nothing is wasted. I was a new Christian, and I loved all the footnotes in Eliot, finding the Bible verses he referred to. I was happiest, on my bed on my room on the tenth floor of Frances Warde Hall, my Bible on one side, my Ellman/O'Clair* on the other. I suppose I had the dictionary out too. I would then go, at night, to the library, and use one of their eight computers to pound out my papers.

My windows didn't have screens. So some days, when I was bored, I would make a paper airplane and fly it out my window. I had never lived that high up. It was the top floor of the dorms, and from my window, I could see forever. Across the river, to the last working steel mill. All of the roofs of Oakland lay before me. I loved that scene, and I have many photographs that I would just take out my window. Maybe I'll find some and scan them for here.

Writing this, I realize what a different time that was. Students now sit on their beds with their laptops. No need to go to the library for a PC, they have one right here. No need to touch the paper thin pages of the anthology, the dictionary, the Bible, one can find all the poetry one needs (with commentary) online. I hope there are students like me, though, that prefer the feel of paper. For whom writing is partially a workout of the arm, pages of ink across a pad of paper.

*Ellman and O'Clair were the men who wrote Modern Poems. Mine is the Second Edition, from 1989. By the time the second edition went to press, O'Clair was the "Late Professor Emeritus" from Manhattanville College.

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