Tuesday, September 22, 2009


“Then let winged Fancy wander
Through the thought still spread beyond her:
Open wide the mind’s cage door,
She’ll dart forth, and cloudward soar.”
--Keats, in “Fancy”

In teaching writing, I have always enjoyed the daunting challenge of helping the students be both disciplined and free in their writing, both organized and untamed. Surely my students must learn to present their thoughts in an orderly fashion, but just as surely they must allow those thoughts to do a little skipping and cavorting among the paragraphs. The students must write in tidy sentences, but those tidy sentences must have the freedom to occasionally roam around – to be extra long now and then, or to make astonishing statements, or to go off in a group of consecutive short sentences if that seems suitable. Their writing must wear form-fitting clothes, but it must also be free to occasionally throw them all off and dance. In the poem by Keats, the word “fancy” probably most closely translates as “imagination”, and, as the poet suggests, I would like to encourage my students to let their imaginations “wander” a bit as they write, though always keeping a firm hold on the reins. There are uncharted territories of thought “spread beyond” my students, and writing is all about roaming out among those far-flung thoughts. When writing even the most formal of essays, the students must “open wide the mind’s cage door” and travel out among the unexplored ideas in the outer reaches of their lives. They must always keep control of their youthful thoughts during the writing process, but that doesn’t imply staying close to home. There’s a world of ideas to wander in out there, and that’s where I send my students each time I assign an essay.

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