Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Bard Leads Me on a Little Vocab Adventure

Oh, Will, Will, Will, Will, Will! What have you done to me? (And quit smiling!)

Backstory: As followers of this site (and unfortunate relatives) know, I have become enthusiastic (i.e., annoying) about  memorizing poems and literary passages.

Although some of my own public school teachers had required me to memorize a few things (A. E. Housman's "When I Was One and Twenty," the opening stanza of Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," and--amazingly, all of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" when I was in elementary school), I promptly forgot them all--though, years later, I discovered that when I set out to re-memorize them, the task was far easier than learning a new poem. Housman and Gray, et al. had been hanging out in the folds of my brain, it seems, sucking on cigarettes, sipping tepid tea (and maybe an ale now and again), waiting for me to, you know, grow up!

About mid-way through my teaching career I started having my 8th graders and (later) high school juniors memorize a dozen pieces a year--everything from some Emily Dickinson ("Because I could not stop for death") to Frost ("The Road Not Taken") to Shakespeare (assorted sonnets--and, to the delight of my juniors, all of "To be or not to be"). My 8th graders were similarly thrilled to learn all of "The Cremation of Sam McGee" (which I can still recite faster than a politician can summon a lie).

And I, of course, kind soul that I was, learned the pieces along with the youngsters. As the years went on--bored with the same old pieces--I started learning different ones while the students were working on theirs.

So, a few years ago, I one day decided to stop and count. I'd reached nearly 100 pieces. So I cranked it up, reached 100, sighed with relief, gave a speech about it on Nov. 8, 2010, to the the entire student body of Western Reserve Academy (where I was ending my career)--then kept on going.

As I type this, I have reached #149.

And it was #150 that sent me off on my little "adventure."

Here we go: There's a book I remember seeing on my parents' shelf back when I was in late high school and college, W. H. Auden's The Dyer's Hand (you can easily infer why we had a book so titled), a collection of prose pieces, published in 1962 (the year I graduated from high school) by the celebrated poet (1907-1973).

As I type these words, I realize I've never read that book. I just checked on ABE, thinking I'd buy a 1st printing. Duh. About $125. No thanks. I'm not that curious.

But I was curious enough to order the paperback just now from Amazon. I'll get back to you when I finish reading it.

Meanwhile, I will tell you this much only: the dyer's hand is a noun phrase that appears in Shakespeare's Sonnet 111, reproduced below (and I've italicized the relevant phrase). As you can tell, it's not one of the Bard's more transparent sonnets. But it did send me on a search--aye, there's the rub, as some depressed Dane once said.

Sonnet 111

O, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me then and wish I were renew'd;
Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
Potions of eisel 'gainst my strong infection
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance, to correct correction.
Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure ye
Even that your pity is enough to cure me.

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