Okay, I don't want to over-state things. Early in my career I was not Ichabod Crane or Wackford Squeers (the harsh schoolmaster from Dickens' novel Nicholas Nickleby), although, like Crane, I was ever hungry and admired some of the kids' lunches; my problem was ... cash flow. But I was pretty clueless about what I was doing in class. My heart, I believe, was usually in the right place, but my mind (and skill) lagged behind.
Anyway, I was writing yesterday about a student-teaching experience with E. E. Cummings' poem "anyone lived in a pretty how town"--about how I skimmed over it with my juniors up at West Geauga High School because, well, I didn't really know what was going on in the poem. And then a bright young man raised his hand when I tried to move on to something else. He saw more in the poem; I went on anyhow ...
Rather than give you a link to Cummings' poem, I'll paste it in at the end of this post. If you glance at the poem, I think you'll agree that it's ... unusual (not for Cummings but certainly for the Me of Then--1966). I could handle lines like "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood" and "Once upon a midnight dreary"--but this sort of poem, at the time, was just beyond me. We'd studied very little poetry in high school--although one teacher, Mrs. Ruth Browning (English 9), had taught us lots of poetic terms--iambic pentameter and that sort of thing.
And when I got to Hiram College, poetry gave me the most trouble. Well ... poetry and Henry James (but that's another story). I always thought there was some secret message in a poem, a message available only to the cognoscenti, of whom I was not one.
In one of Prof. Ravitz's American literature courses we used this book--The Mentor Book of Major American Poets (1962). Nearly a half-century later, I would use this same book with my juniors at Western Reserve Academy (American lit class!), and I was stunned one day to discover that the book had not been changed in all the previous years. At the end of the volume, there's a little paragraph about each of the poets. And here's what it says about Robert Frost: Robert Frost (1874-) ...
Hmmm. Robert Frost died in 1963! But he's still alive (in all sorts of ways) inside The Mentor Book of Major American Poets. (I just checked on Amazon: It's still in print; you can still get copies.) Anyway, I used this volume with my WRA students clear to my retirement in June 2011! And Frost still lived!
One of the poets included in The Mentor Book is E. E. Cummings, and one of his poems, on p. 460, is "anyone lived in a pretty how town." I don't recall if Prof. Ravitz assigned that poem--or any of them by Cummings (I bet he did!), but if he did, I no doubt employed my wonted strategy in those years: skim and hope he doesn't call on me.
So there I was, that dark winter day in Geauga County, Ohio, trying to buffalo a student into thinking I certainly knew all about that poem--but I could tell from his mien and manner that he wasn't buying it. Neither was I.
(BTW: The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang traces back to 1891--to the late American West--the use of buffalo meaning intimidate or (when it softened, later) fool. But The Dictionary of American Slang takes it back to 1870--meaning fool.)
So--that pathetic winter day, I went on to something else. And--good Puritan that I am (well, in some ways)--I've felt guilty about it for nearly fifty years. Ed is now in the middle sixties, and I've never stopped feeling that I owe him something.
And so ... last week (while we were up in Stratford, Ont., for the play festival) ... I memorized it. And thought about it for hours. And now could have a wee discussion with Ed.
Which I will do tomorrow ... To be continued.
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more
when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream
stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)
one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was
all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.
Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain