Hostirad (hostirad) wrote,

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.

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