Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine…”
--Keats, “Ode on Melancholy”
Last week, when one of my students was beside herself because of the C+ she had received on an essay (she’s usually an ‘A’ student), I thought of these lines by Keats. This girl normally experiences nothing but success in English class; she dwells “in the very temple of Delight” in my classroom. She labors diligently on each task and receives high tributes for her work. She generally knows little of melancholy as she toils assiduously on her reading and writing assignments, which is probably why she suffered so much when she saw her grade. I wish I could help her see (but it will have to come with the passage of time) that, as Keats suggested, failure is the other side of the coin of success, and “sorrow” is on the back of the sign labeled “happiness”. For this girl to think she can experience only triumph in her life is as naive as thinking she can have only sunshine and no storms. The “sovran shrine” of failure sends out music as sweet as success does, but this youthful scholar can’t hear it at this point in her life. She (like me and most of us, I would guess) wants life to be all happiness, but that’s like wanting only in-breaths with no out-breaths. Can’t happen.