I try to focus on getting “a bird in the hand” in my daily English classes – a specific and detailed lesson taught with thoroughness – but I must also confess to enjoying the sense that there are multitudes of “birds in the bush” somewhere out there in the distances beyond my little lessons. While I’m teaching a lesson on metaphors in A Tale of Two Cities, I hope the students come to an understanding of what a metaphor is and how Dickens distinctively uses them in the novel, but I also hope they gain at least a hazy awareness of the multifarious extended meanings of these metaphors – meanings that reach far out beyond the words on the pages. I want them to be able to deal successfully with my assignments and tests involving metaphors, but, more significantly, I want them to get a glimpse of the limitless “birds in the bush”, those furtive truths that surround any great literary work and extend out beyond reckoning. We’ll never truly take hold of and fully understand most of those truths, but perhaps that’s precisely what makes them special – their remoteness, their inaccessibility, their dimness and secrecy, like far-off mountains we can admire only from a distance. Sometimes a simple question like “Why does it matter?” can start students thinking about these misty, distant truths, as in “Why does it matter that Dickens compares wine spilled in the streets to blood? Why does it matter for our lives – teenagers and an old teacher – right here and now, in October of 2010? Why does it matter that we even read this strange, inscrutable book?” These are questions that can’t ever be definitely answered, like mountains that can’t ever be reached and climbed. All we can do is ask them and wonder, hoping to get a hint, at least, of the birds in the bush beyond counting.
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