Monday, November 23, 2009


“…the sweet converse of an innocent mind,

Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d.”

--Keats, in the sonnet “O Solitude”

I love these lines for many reasons, one of which is that they remind me of some of my English classes. Without doubt, many of my classes over the years have been neither sweet nor “refin’d”, but some of them do bring back memories of gracious discussions and classy ideas. When my students engage in discussions, they try their best to be “innocent”, to use the poet’s word, which, according to its etymology, originally meant “not hurtful”. I encourage the students to be frank and free in their comments, but never insensitive. Their minds are sharpening in these teenage years, but their words in my class must always be rounded with the smoothness of good will. Actually, many of their words spoken during class discussions are, as Keats put it, “images of thoughts refin’d”, simply because the thoughts which produced the words have been tumbling around in their minds for a time, the way stones tumble in a polishing machine. True, sometimes their words come from thoughts born out of the blue, but often they arise from ideas that have been quietly buffed up in the back-room laboratories of their minds. Even students who blurt are often blurting thoughts that subconscious processes have carefully filtered and purified, sometimes over a long period of time. It pleases me to think that Keats (a favorite poet of mine) might have enjoyed some of my classes, because they have, occasionally, involved “sweet converse”. Thinking of the origins of the word, when the students conversed in those good classes, they figuratively “turned around” – away from their self-absorbed preoccupations and toward each other, to better appreciate the “thoughts refin’d” – the surprisingly sophisticated ideas – of their classmates.

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