Tuesday, February 09, 2010


“But all sorts of things and weather
Must be taken in together
To make up a year,
And a sphere.
And I think it no disgrace
To occupy my place.
If I'm not so large as you,
You are not so small as I,
And not half so spry:
I'll not deny you make
A very pretty squirrel track;
Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;
If I cannot carry forests on my back,
Neither can you crack a nut.”
         --A squirrel talking to a mountain,
                  in Emerson’s “Fable”

         When I read this poem, I often picture one of my students speaking, instead of a squirrel, and I, the supposedly imposing English teacher, am the mountain being addressed. Sadly, my students may actually feel like squirrels as they scamper around trying to accomplish my obscure and troublesome tasks, and they may see me, their silvery, age-old teacher, as a somewhat bizarre mountain looming in their midst for 48 minutes each day.  Students probably often feel like lesser creatures when they’re laboring in the shadow of a teacher, especially one who’s old enough to be their grandfather. I can imagine that my students would empathize with the squirrel in Emerson’s poem, who is unabashed enough to speak his mind to the lordly mountain. I can imagine the students reminding me that, yes, 
“all sorts of things and weather
Must be taken in together
To make up a year”,

including impish, obstreperous, seriously talented teenagers. They might remind me that, though they don’t have as many degrees as I have, neither do I have as much spryness as they have.  “Talents differ”, they would tell me. Yes, I can analyze a Wordsworth sonnet with dispatch, enjoy Shakespeare in a hurricane, and recite all the 10,000 grammar rules, but I can’t skateboard, dance for sixty straight minutes, laugh at just about anything, daydream castles and spaceships, do stupid stunts for laughs, or feel youthfulness flowing through my veins like an almighty river. They can’t diagram a 70-word sentence, but neither can I feel 70 free-handed years unfurling ahead of me.

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