Sunday, January 01, 2012


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     “As to the poetical Character itself … it is not itself—it has no self—it is every thing and nothing—It has no character—it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated—It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosop[h]er, delights the camelion Poet…. A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity—he is continually in for—and filling some other Body—The Sun, the Moon, The Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute—the poet has none; no identity.”
     -- John Keats, in a letter to Richard Woodhouse, October 27, 1818)

         I have always loved Keats’ idea that a poet must make himself melt away in his poetry, and I think the same is true for a teacher. As the years of my career have passed, I have held it more and more imperative that a teacher take himself or herself as far out of the picture as possible – that the “self” of the teacher grow gradually smaller and less significant. That sounds strange, I’m sure, to those who think of teachers as trailblazers or captains or spectacular performers, but it makes sense to me, especially as I recall the few captivating teachers I had as a student. These were teachers who took me, not into the world of their own personal interests and beliefs, but into vast realms of literature and ideas, where their personalities seemed to disappear. I remember these teachers being not like bright beams of light that blinded us to all but their radiance and brilliance, but more like soft, unassertive lamps lighting the way. The personalities of these magnificent teachers sort of vanished in the brightness of the literature they taught and loved. You might say the teachers disappeared so the learning could arise in their place. My humble hope is to disappear in a similar way, day after day among my ever-blossoming students.

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