Monday, October 18, 2010

A Tiny Fly on The Tempest

Yesterday, as I was rereading parts of The Tempest outside, I noticed a tiny insect making its way across some lines of Prospero, and I couldn’t help but think of my students and me in English class. As I watched the little creature crawling among the words on the page, turning to the right and left and looking over the edges of the book, I thought of all of us in class as we work our way through Shakespeare or Dickens, sometimes moving slowly, struggling to see some sense in the words. I include myself in this, for after 46 years in the classroom, I still occasionally get as lost among Dickens’ sentences as the small fly that was wandering around on my Shakespeare page yesterday. Like the fly, I sometimes seem to be staring out from the edge of a page in absolute bewilderment. As I watched the insect, I also thought of the transient nature of his life, and of all things, including our understandings of the words we read. Soon the insect will be simply a wisp of the dust of the measureless universe, and so, to be honest, will the ideas my students and I dream up about a Browning poem or Prospero’s statements. We ourselves are comparatively small specks of life in this limitless universe, and, like everything, we will go where the universe carries us and leave our lives behind when the universe is still as fresh as an infant. The ideas we share in English class are like spanking new lights in the shadows, but soon our lights will flicker and fall away and new lights will take their places in the everlasting procession of ideas. As Prospero says, “our little life is rounded with a sleep” -- the insect’s little life in the midst of the majestic words of Shakespeare, as well as the lives of my students and me as we shine the fearless lamps of our thoughts onto the sometimes mystifying words we read.

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