Thursday, October 28, 2010


This morning as I drove to school and gratefully found the sunlight once again spreading across the countryside, as it has each morning for many billions of years, I got to thinking about the rhythms of all things, including the rhythms of English class. There’s night, morning, and then night again, and in English class there’s confusion, understanding, and then confusion again. Like the rising and falling and rising of my lungs, or the silence of the wind and then its shrieking and then its silence again, my lessons soar and stagger and, sooner or later, soar again. All comes round in a rhythm – seasons, beats of hearts, the attentiveness and carelessness of students, the success and collapse of my teaching. I even realized, as I drove toward school this morning, that rhythm is behind the beauty of the literature I love. The reason certain sentences stay in my thoughts is because of the musical movements of the words – the way sounds shift and flow in graceful patterns. Aspiring writers, I often think, should foster a love for the music of words, because their best writing has to work like melodies work, making ideas and feelings flow with force and stylishness. I’m going to talk more with my students about this idea of rhythm – about looking for rhythms of all kinds in the books we read, and about bringing some easy rhythms into their essays. They could do something as simple as repeat some ‘s’ sounds in a few sentences, or set up a reverberating pattern among phrases in a paragraph. They could look for the rise and fall of successive subordinate clauses in Dickens, or the straightforward but long-celebrated repetitions of iambic pentameter in Shakespeare. They could do this – or they could look out the classroom window at the rhythms of birds’ wings as they flutter back and forth from the feeder. Rhythm is rhythm – and beautiful – wherever it’s found.

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