Wednesday, March 16, 2011


“Mystical dance, which yonder starry sphere
Of planets, and of fixed, in all her wheels
Resembles nearest, mazes intricate,
Eccentrick, intervolved, yet regular
Then most, when most irregular they seem.”
     -- John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book V

Milton is here describing the dances of the angels, and my students are certainly no angels, but still, I find something in this passage that prompts me to think of their sometimes obscure and idiosyncratic writing. I push for the kind of closely controlled writing that will win them friends among their future teachers, but I do admit to having a fondness for the lightheartedness and pure foolishness I sometimes see in their essays. Their writing occasionally appears to be a maze made just so their unsuspecting teacher can have the fun of finding himself fully lost among the words.  I’ve often wandered for many minutes among student sentences, searching for the path to their meaning. From one perspective – that of the efficient, commonsensical teacher – this is not a pleasant experience, but from the perspective of a person who loves a little frivolity in life, these unskillful and rowdy sentences can bring a blessing in the midst of an otherwise undistinguished school day. Assuming the students are trying their best to fulfill the requirements of the assignment, I can make allowances for occasional casualness and high spirits in their writing. Sometimes, in fact, I find the best and deepest sense right in the midst of some maze-like sentences. Like the angels’ dances, the students’ sentences, “when most irregular they seem”, sometimes show a strange kind of young-looking radiance.

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