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Mr. Pye and poetry

Elsewhere I have written about my ambivalence about poetry. I explain there why most poetry disgusts me, although occasionally a poem will inspire me. I mentioned my 10th grade English teacher, who required us to memorize portions of about a dozen classic poems.

Mr Pye was a bizarre fellow who I actually liked, perhaps because he was so strange. He was a fluid mirror writer. He might have been ambidextrous as well, although perhaps I am confusing him with my 11th grade computer science teacher, Mr. Bradley. One of his most unusual quirks was his insistence that the ability to diagram sentences was the foundation of good writing. He wrote a workbook, "Diagramming is Worthless?" One hit on Google gives you an indication of the popularity of this workbook. At the beginning of the school year he gave all of his students a diagramming test, and the handful of us who received a certain grade were exempt from a portion of his course, while everyone else had to slog through the workbook. When I learned to diagram sentences in the ninth grade, I found the process supremely logical and easy to grasp, so I had no trouble passing the test. Those of us who were exempt used the class time for creative writing, which is when I found out that my dreams of becoming a fiction writer were not realistic.

My Pye also had the most difficult, obscure questions on a daily (or maybe it was weekly) quiz he gave us on Great Expectations. I'll never forget one question (and its answer) for its obscurity. In the scene in question, someone (see, I can't remember the important details) was driving a horse-drawn carriage through a thick fog. The question was, "The fog seemed to be coming from _____ ." Answer: "the horses' backs." (The horses were laboring so intensely that their body heat created steam, which blended into the fog and therefore seemed, perceptually, to be the source of the fog.)

Back to poetry. One poem from our list that I have always appreciated is Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray. One thought-provoking section of this poem for me is:

>Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
>Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
>Hands that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
>Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:

>But knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
>Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll;
>Chill penury repressed their noble rage,
>And froze the genial current of the soul.

Which, translated into Amurican, means, perhaps amongst these dead peasants there was a real genius whose poverty prevented that person from achieving greatness.

This makes me wonder: How many of us, if it weren't for some handicap--be it poverty, a character flaw, or some other handicap--would have accomplished something truly great in our lifetimes. If only.

Not that it really matters. An even more thought-provoking stanza from the poem is:

>The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
>And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
>Awaits alike the inevitable hour:
>The paths of glory lead but to the grave.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 5th, 2007 06:43 pm (UTC)
Do you like Octavio Paz? He's the one poet who I can really get into. Nobel prize winner who's crazy inspired by french surrealism and Indian mysticism while being the "myth maker" of Mexico, spicing up a lot of his poetry with Aztec references, writing a lot of erotic poetry and writing books on different poets and histories of Mexico, though if you know all this I'll feel stupid writing it. But if you don't, you should check him out. "Sunstone" is the way to go- it's a really long poem and I only found one full length version of it online, but it's pretty intense and has such an interesting history behind it. I went through this intense Paz phase and read tons of books on his poetry. Also, if you're not into poetry, you just gotta check out his essays, or maybe his interview with Robert Frost, which is fantastic.

PS- Question: Cog Psych? I want to take the course but all my psych major friends are warning me against it, not because the class is particularly hard but because the subject is dry. Thoughts?
Apr. 5th, 2007 08:17 pm (UTC)
Ack. There's always a danger in asking someone to try something you really like, because they might not like it!

Since I had not read any Octavio Paz and you recommended him, I looked up and read Sunstone. It's okay. Parts of it are trippy, and I like his eroticism.

Maybe this is faint praise for a Nobel prize winner, but that's just the way I am when it comes to poetry! I will also look into his essays.
Apr. 9th, 2007 06:59 am (UTC)
That's totally OK, I'm sure that Paz isn't for everyone. He's a cool guy though, his essays are definitely worth it, I think. Haha trippy, that's a good way of describing it though.

Hey this is really random, but do you notice if a lot of psych people are into music as well? I mean, that's probably just my skewed sample, but lately I've been jamming with some of my psych major friends here, I'm now considering double majoring in psych and music, my mom's best friend is a recently retired psych professor who now performs in operas (maybe you know her? Haha I suppose there are like zero odds of that, but you wouldn't know a Jaylan Turkkan, would you? I think she taught at both Johns Hopkins and SUNY Buffalo?), and from what I've gathered you're also really musically inclined. I really doubt that there's a correlation and it's probably more reflective of the people I gravitate towards then some crazy music/psych conspiracy, but I thought I'd bring it up because I'm looking to do anything right now to not be doing the tons of work I'm supposed to do, and this just provided a really nice distraction. Ok, now I feel silly for bringing this up, so I'm off.
Apr. 9th, 2007 11:02 am (UTC)
I do know a lot of psychologists who are also musicians, but I think it is for the same reason you mention, the kind of people I gravitate toward.
Apr. 6th, 2007 03:19 am (UTC)
This makes me wonder: How many of us, if it weren't for some handicap--be it poverty, a character flaw, or some other handicap--would have accomplished something truly great in our lifetimes. If only.

It depends on the definition of "great accomplishment". Maybe most people do accomplish something great in their lifetime, but they just don't know it. Others are the ones who can see a person's greatness; the person them-self just doesn't know that they did something great.

Just think how many people have died before their greatness was noticed by others. The person probably died never knowing he/she had accomplished something great.

I love to hear other people read and recite poetry with feeling, but I'm not good at translating it. Does that last stanza mean that it doesn't matter how powerful or beautiful or wealthy you are because you are just going to die anyway?
Apr. 6th, 2007 10:46 pm (UTC)
you are just going to die anyway

Yep, that's the Amurican translation. This means that, ultimately, nothing really matters. This thought can be either very scary or very liberating.
Apr. 7th, 2007 12:58 am (UTC)
ultimately, nothing really matters

I don't like that thought. I can see how the thought can be either scary or liberating, but something has to matter.

Something has to matter because when you lose your dream...you die (inside).

Although, when you are dead, nothing does matter.

This can be perplexing and keep going around in circles...maybe matters?...maybe doesn't matter?...maybe scary?...maybe liberating?

It is certainly something to ponder...

Apr. 9th, 2007 11:12 am (UTC)
Apr. 9th, 2007 11:51 am (UTC)
If it just doesn't matter, why is it thought-provoking?

Okay, after a person is dead, nothing matters. I agree with that. But, while a person is alive, something has to matter -- or, what is the point of even getting out of bed in the morning?

(btw, Bill Murray has always been able to make me laugh.)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )