Sunday, January 27, 2008

Homage from Longfellow

A sonnet on the Purgatorio:

With snow-white veil and garments as of flame,

She stands before thee, who so long ago

Filled thy young heart with passion and the woe

From which thy song and all its splendors came;

And while with stern rebuke she speaks thy name,

The ice about thy heart melts as the snow

On mountain heights, and in swift overflow

Comes gushing from thy lips in sobs of shame.

Thou makest full confession; and a gleam,

As of the dawn on some dark forest cast,

Seems on thy lifted forehead to increase;

Lethe and Eunoë -- the remembered dream

And the forgotten sorrow -- bring at last

That perfect pardon which is perfect peace.

One of six sonnets about The Comedy composed by H.W. Longfellow -- he was translating the entire poem at the time.

Numerical Concinnity

Shaw shares a link to this interesting look at number in the Comedy:

Monday, January 07, 2008

About reading

A writer and a teacher of literature who happens to be a friend offered some thoughts about reading -- how it might be taught through the event of reading in the classroom:
Am I interested, excited, moved by what I have read, enough to think it is important for my students to understand it?

Really? Sincerely?

Can I locate the source of my excitement, of what is important, of what has meaning in what I and these students just read?

Can I explain it to my students so that they understand something of what it means, of why it is important, why it moves me?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, do not teach.

If the answer to all of these is yes, here is how you teach your students to read:

You select for discussion a passage or a text that you care about, that you see as important, and you talk about it truthfully, candidly, thoughtfully, and you show them how you got what you got out of it. If they follow you, they will get more out of it than you gave them, because they will learn from and make use of your example of how to read. Oh, and by the way that means you have to know your way around the text.

You ask open-ended questions, none of that "Socratic Dialogue" bullshit.

You encourage students to try to form their own questions about what they read -- to define their own problems n their own words. You don't tell them this necessarily, but defining the problem you are having with a text can solve about 80 percent of it. And then you answer their questions.

You don't judge their words. You respond to them with thoughtfulnes, care, and respect, establishing a lucid relationship between their question and the text. Because when they tell you they don't understand, that is the frontier of the humanitiies.

If you make this conversation interesting and rich, if you give a sense that the material has untapped riches and **that they have as much of a right to get at in their way as anybody else**, they will learn to read.

Give them permission to skim over the hard parts if they must, and urge them to make note of anything interesting -- page number, phrase, written out passage, comment on it, just so they can find it if they need to talk about it or write about it. In discussion, keep referring the conversation back to the text: as in "Well, let's see again what XXX actually says." Because it's good to remember that the actual text is different from your idea of it at any given moment.

Honestly I do not think it is necessary to do more. If you don't believe you can teach the material on the merits of its inherent interest you just should find something you can care about or get out of teaching.

Everything else just gets people tangled up in all the apparatus and then they feel even more cut off from the author and his/her material. All you are doing is giving it to them as a gift, not even as a gift, as something they already own.

Reading is experience, it is an activity like thinking; it isn't a method. There is no system for getting it, just reading one thing after another.