“Eh, Aaron, my lad, are you there?” said Silas. “I wasn’t aware of you; for when Eppie’s talking o’ things, I see nothing but what she’s a-saying.”
-- from George Eliot’s Silas Marner
I wish my students and I could always listen to each other the way Silas listens to Eppie. For Silas, the world withdraws when his stepdaughter talks to him, so much so that he might be exactly accurate when he says he “see[s] nothing but what she’s a-saying.” When she is speaking to him, only she and her words -- those treasures that he takes to his heart -- exist for him. Perhaps he actually does “see nothing” but her mouth moving and the music of her words and the thoughts they symbolize. It’s like being lost in what someone is saying, a sensation I wish we could experience more often in English class. My hope each day is to see all faces shift to attentively focus on the next speaker, then the next, then the next, and so on. Friends across the room, passersby in the hall, birds at the feeders – all should fade away as we listen to someone’s words. This is the kind of focus that could free the kids and I to find the sometimes secret significance in what others say. Gold inside hills will give itself to us, but only if we give our attention to uncovering it, and the same can be said of the gold in the sentences spoken in English class.