Shelley on Destroying and Preserving
"Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;Destroyer and preserver..."
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley, from "Ode to the West Wind"
When I came across these lines this morning, three words stood out as relating particularly well to my work as an English teacher. To begin with, there certainly is something "wild" about what happens when the scholars and I read, write, talk, and think together in class. Even when the class is fairly tedious, thoughts are constantly streaming inside and between us like the "uncontrollable" west wind of autumn. The "mighty harmonies" of the wind are no stronger or louder than the ideas that blow through my classroom during each English class. What's always been intriguing to me is that these ideas are as destructive as they are creative. In order for new thoughts to be born and new attitudes toward life to be constructed, old ideas and attitudes must first be destroyed, or at least radically transformed. There's no day without night, no birth without death, no new ways of thinking without the obliteration of the old ways. It's the way the universe works. Surely I want preservation to be a central theme in my classes, but it should be the preservation of an ambience of constant growth and change. Like the gusty days of autumn that Shelley speaks of in his poem, there must be continual alteration, adjustment, and variation in my classes. New ideas must continually whisk away old ones like dead leaves are "driven" by the west wind.