23 August 2007

September, The First Day of School

I read this poem to my classes today, at the end of our first meeting. Since Friday Poetry blogging started, I've been trying to end a class once a week with a poem of some sort, connected either to the content of the course, or to the mood students seem to be in at that point in the semester. This year, the start of the school year seemed heavy with responsibility and not so full of the delight and wonder I usually associate with September (or August, as is the case in my starts-school-way-too-early-state). This time of year, I usually have vivid sensory memories of the smell of the new leather bookbag I got when I started first grade. It was wonderful, and I felt so grownup, so on edge of big new leaps (and my 45-year-old self looks back in amusement at my 6-year-old self feeling so big!). This year, though, I was feeling a big weighted down with e-mail about sections to cancel, staffing problems, personnel problems, cleaning problems, committee problems, problems, problems, problems. Reading this poem today lifted a lot of those burdens, and reminded me that it was my selective memory of problems, problems, problems that was helping to frame that weight.

So may we all find kindess, in the end, of whatever beginnings this school year bring.

My child and I hold hands on the way to school,
And when I leave him at the first-grade door
He cries a little but is brave; he does
Let go. My selfish tears remind me how
I cried before that door a life ago.
I may have had a hard time letting go.

Each fall the children must endure together
What every child also endures alone:
Learning the alphabet, the integers,
Three dozen bits and pieces of a stuff
So arbitrary, so peremptory,
That worlds invisible and visible

Bow down before it, as in Joseph's dream
The sheaves bowed down and then the stars bowed down
Before the dreaming of a little boy.
That dream got him such hatred of his brothers
As cost the greater part of life to mend,
And yet great kindness came of it in the end.

A school is where they grind the grain of thought,
And grind the children who must mind the thought.
It may be those two grindings are but one,
As from the alphabet come Shakespeare's Plays,
As from the integers comes Euler's Law,
As from the whole, inseperably, the lives,

The shrunken lives that have not been set free
By law or by poetic phantasy.
But may they be. My child has disappeared
Behind the schoolroom door. And should I live
To see his coming forth, a life away,
I know my hope, but do not know its form

Nor hope to know it. May the fathers he finds
Among his teachers have a care of him
More than his father could. How that will look
I do not know, I do not need to know.
Even our tears belong to ritual.
But may great kindness come of it in the end.
Howard Nemerov

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