I often feel like a traveler as I make my way through the English curriculum, and yesterday, leafing through the dictionary, I discovered that the word “travel” derives from “travail”, which originally grew out of the Latin word “trepalium”, meaning “an instrument of torture”. Strange, that traveling originally meant suffering – that getting from one place to another was initially connected with trouble and tribulation. But perhaps it’s not so strange, at least when it comes to English class, where my students sometimes stagger under the weight of cumbersome novels and solemn essay assignments. Quite often, my course is plain hard work – not torture, exactly, but seriously irksome labor. When we work our way through a poem together, I sometimes picture my students as trekkers trying out new trails on the sides of a mountain, huffing and puffing and praying for it all to end. I’m sure my class sometimes feels like torture to the students, but, oddly enough, there’s a good side to that word, too. When a guy says he’s gone through torture because of his love for a woman, the torture is perhaps of a sweet kind, like sailing successfully through a storm or ascending the far peaks of the Rockies. Some torture is worth it. Reading King Lear is not exactly a kick-up-your-heels kind of thing, but the rewards are generous, as I hope they are in English class as we travel the often nameless trails.
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