Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Shelley on Mixing Forever

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of Heaven mix forever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single,
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, in “Love’s Philosophy”

I came across this quote yesterday, and it immediately struck me that Shelley is giving me some sound advice about teaching. The truth that “Nothing in the world is single” is something all teachers should keep in mind, especially in this world where singleness, separation, disconnection, and competition are accepted as daily facts, if not eternal truths. It’s easy for teachers to fall into the convention of seeing themselves as lone warriors fighting the battle for the hearts and minds of his scholars, but the facts are very different. As the poet reminds us, “all things […] meet and mingle”, including all teachers, all scholars, all ideas, and all feelings. We’re never alone in this process of education, because all things “mix forever”. I often use the analogy of a river: the scholars and I are part of a vast and shoreless river composed of all the ideas that have ever been born. Like bubbles in a stream, we don’t navigate and propel ourselves, but are irresistibly carried along by the eons of learning that have come before us. We don’t each, by ourselves, have to “make” the current or force it to go in a certain direction, for the current of learning is wider than the stars and deeper than seas. As teachers and scholars, all we have to do is trust the river and stay alert for the wondrous sights to see. In this way, both teaching and learning can be enjoyed “with a sweet emotion”, and no one need ever feel alone.

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