Absorbing Literature

A student at the college where I work spoke to me recently about her love for books, writing and literature.  She is twenty-four years old (and let me tell you, my heart grows three sizes when a younger person tells me of their love for books and literature).   She told me, “I may seem old-fashioned, but I really am tired of all the electronic gadgetry, and I love books – real books that I can read, linger over, hold in my hands and admire on a bookcase.”    She also talked about her fears that literature is in decline…that there are so few modern writers she admires (her favorite novel is East of Eden).   This is coming from a young woman who dropped out of high school, came to earn her GED, successfully completed Honors English in her first semester at college, has one semester left to earn her A.A. degree in liberal arts and has definite plans to continue her higher education so that she can teach English and…write.   Although she hasn’t always loved school, she has always loved to read.  And let’s face it, there isn’t much real reading going on in our schools anymore.  And it takes good readers to make, in turn,  good writers.

Here’s a link to an article I came across recently by an educator who is encouraging “slow reading” – in other words, savoring the words, understanding them, remembering them, rather than speeding through the reading experience.   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/17/slow-reading-newkirk_n_615487.html?ir=Books

A generation or two ago, reading and memorization was a key part of education.  My Dad, who was born in 1912, could recite long beautiful poems from memory.   One of his favorites was To a Waterfowl, By William Cullen Bryant.  I just loved listening to him say it.  Many of his friends from the same generation with high school educations could recite poetry from memory as well (they also knew their history, the periodic table of the elements, and could do math in their heads).

Roy, a friend from my generation, constantly amazes me with his ability to quote from books he has read over the years.   What a wonderful gift– to absorb, remember, and then be able to share in an instant some meaningful piece of literature.

Reading to understand literature or memorizing poetry (or anything else) is enjoyable work, and the reward is having something worth keeping in our heads.   Here’s to slowing down, in this and many other aspects of our lives!

When I was young, the first time I heard my Dad say this poem out loud was when a flock of geese was passing over our heads as we worked at setting a fence line back in Minnesota.  I committed the poem to my own memory in my father’s last days, and recited it at his memorial service.

To a Waterfowl

Whither, ‘midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way?
Vainly the fowler’s eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong,
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky,
Thy figure floats along.
Seek’st thou the plashy brink
Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink
On the chafed ocean side?
There is a Power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,–
The desert and illimitable air,–
Lone wandering, but not lost.
All day thy wings have fann’d
At that far height, the cold thin atmosphere:
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
Though the dark night is near.
And soon that toil shall end,
Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,
And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend
Soon o’er thy sheltered nest.
Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven
Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart
Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,
And shall not soon depart.
He, who, from zone to zone,
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.
–  William Cullen Bryant

(Happy Father’s Day, Dad, to you among your fellows.)

Published in: on 06/22/2010 at 11:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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