Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Perhaps it is because I just finished (re)watching the movie Wit (2001) that I felt compelled to think this through.

Else, it could be my seeing a thread asking about one's favorite class, referring not to scholarly classes, though I mistakenly thought so. In any regard, the movie did remind me that my favorite classes were, since the eighth grade, largely English classes, and, as I grew older, became specifically poetry and literature classes.

Perhaps it is due in part to the prolixity of most poems, and some literature, that causes my enjoyment of the classes, but that can only account for, at most, less than half of my love, as though it were quantifiable. Indeed, the source for the majority of my utter revelry in such classes is the professors themselves. Every single one, whether considered 'good' or 'bad', causes in me gaiety as such I can hardly feel except under extremely specific, and unrelated to this subject, circumstances.

To elaborate, it is sitting in front of a professor, as an unseen observer, unseen insofar as I am not being personally seen by him, or her, seeing as I would be in a crowd of, say, 300 other students. But it is sitting in front of a professor and hearing him go on about a poem, or novel, and detail various ideas and theories to the extent that it is obvious, to me at least, of the love these professors have for their subject.

For example, in this movie, the professor Vivian (I am terrible with names and, as such, have already forgotten her last name...), as well as her professor from some time ago, have a scene where Vivian is lectured on a particular poem of John Donne. Now, an English teacher of mine from a few years back told me this story of John Donne and this poem, and I will retell it to you, but I may have it wrong, and for that, I apologize beforehand.

From what I recall, this particular poem of John Donne was published, I believe, sometime in the 17th century. In that poem, which is very beautiful in its own right, the last line goes:
And Death shall be no more, Death, thou shalt die.
And then, some time later, another version, written by Donne, naturally, of the same poem was found. This time ending with:
And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!
 Note the difference. Not only is there an exclaimation mark at the end, but the comma has turned into a semicolon, thus, as Vivian's professor points out in the movie, turning what was a breath into some melodramatic line fit for Shakespeare (paraphrasing her words). Seeing as the two were dated quite close to each other, it is up to scholarly debate as to which rendition is the 'correct' rendition, hence Vivian's professor's poison toward the copy using the latter punctuation style.

Now, for all practical purposes, who cares, right? Nonetheless, it is in my seeing these professors, English, literature, poetry professors, all go on about a piece that sets my soul aflame. It does not matter if I care for the subject, either of the class or of the piece they're lecturing on, just hearing them talk about it, hearing the love in their voice, hearing all the hours they spent outside of class preparing for the lecture, researching, writing notes, discussing with their colleagues...

You have, of course, knowledge of people saying how they heard a wonderful piece of music, or how they saw a particularly beautiful field of flowers, and so were imbued with sheer love of life, yes? It is very much the same thing, though the cause of the feeling is different.

It is a bit odd, honestly, because, in the lectures, you are expected, both as student and simple observer, to not just hear them speak, but to understand their speech, to take notes, to absorb the knowledge they're putting forth. But...but it is just so much more enjoyable to hear them. To hear the tonations of their voice, the different pitches as they read aloud a particular passage, or emphasize a point in their lecture. I gather more joy from hearing them speak, even if, after their lecture is over, I retain nothing, than I do paying apt attention to the meaning of their words and forcing myself to understand what Locke means about material intercourse, or whatever the phrase was. Not very good for a student, hm?

It does not work the same way when, say, an electrical engineer, or nuclear physicist, or medical doctor drones on about their jargon. Indeed, in such cases, I automatically trigger the nod-and-smile mechanism and have my mind wander off to recite Henry V in my head, or thinking about how pretty the clouds are.

As I said, though, not only does listening to professors lecture give me joy, but hearing them read aloud, or even just myself reading silently, various pieces of poetry, or of literature with nice prose, grants me the same, if not greater, joy.

I think I want a book of poetry for Christmas.

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