“The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown”
-- John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale
In the classroom, I am sometimes filled with the feeling of unison and solidarity with all the teachers and students of the past and present. Perhaps it’s the same feeling Keats had when he realized that the songs of nightingales, in a sense, last forever – that inside the moment of his joyous listening to the bird’s song were concealed all the countless times others had listened to the same song. There was a strange timelessness and even everlastingness in Keats’s experience, as though he was in unison with the immeasurable numbers of people, be they emperors or clowns, who had heard and will hear those sweet songs in other gardens. Now and then, fortunately for me, I feel something similar, for there are moments in my classroom when I feel completely connected to the endless family of teachers and students from all times and places. I’m presenting lessons on poems or punctuation rules, and all the teachers and students from the limitless years of the past are there with me, presenting lessons and learning how to learn. It’s as if I’m in the center of a vast and crowded classroom, filled with all those who think deeply and don’t want to stay blind and dumb, and we’re all sort of holding hands as we work our way toward new knowledge. Keats was alone in a lonely garden and I teach alone in a tiny classroom, but in another and real way, there’s no aloneness anywhere, not when nightingales are singing or when kids and teachers take on the task of teaching each other. The universe itself sits and studies with my students and me, the same everlasting universe that sat with Keats and listened.
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