Tolle, Lege

“How Long O Lord, to wait
Beside this open gate?
My sheep with many a lamb
Have entered, and I am
Alone, and it is late.” -John Banister Tabb, “The Old Pastor.”
I pulled an Augustine and opened to a random page of an American poetry anthology. That’s what drew my eye first. I wonder if he wrote it before or after going blind.
“Your brain peaks at 18. After that, it starts to deteriorate.” God help the person who learns that after turning 19. I think I heard it first in elementary school. God help the teacher who teaches that fact year after year. Mine was 50, at least.
I got the American poetry anthology from my grandparents last night, at my grandmother’s 79th birthday party. They’re giving stuff away; they think they’re dying soon, despite their good health. The anthology is part of a “home education program” in American literature. Poetry, Short Stories, Short Novels, Literary Essays, and the Key. The Key tells you what to read and when. It’s the professor, but it’s showing its age more than anything else in the collection. After all, according to the Table of Contents, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Archibald MacLeish, and e.e. cummings are all still alive. Damn.
Now, the Key teaches you a canon comprised of dead men, many of whom were still alive and producing when deemed worthy of the course. There are some women in there, but they’re almost all dead, even to the Key. I guess the Key liked dead women better than living ones. I bet the Key and Gogol would have been pals.
I’m going to take the course with Professor Key. There are even a list of questions I can answer about each text:
Does Whitman’s celebration of himself in “Song of Myself” seem arrogant, egotistical, or a justifiable acceptance of himself and the world he found himself in?”
Masters’ poems have a prose quality. Explain.
Crane is an ironic poet. Write an essay (350 to 400 words) on this subject.
Explicate “In a Station of the Metro”
Many of the images in “Preludes” are ugly. Does this mean that they are unpoetic?
Does the play involve the American experience in any clearly recognizable way? Explain.
Are the characters mere types or are some of them, at least, fairly complicated?
Write an essay (600-700 words) entitled The American Short Story Since Crane.
… I don’t think I would have been a very good student in this class.


  1. Meghan Maguire Dahn

    I've thought, pretty regularly, that being a highschool teacher would be fairly depressing.

    College is better. But. I have to say – if all those kids were at the peak in their brain capacity, the world is a very scary place.

    Anyway, you and I have talked about this before…I don't think that the 18-year-old brain thing really has all that much to do with intelligence. I went at thinking with more alacrity and tenacity at 19 than I do now, but I think I'm far more intellectually flexible than I was then.

  2. Meghan Maguire Dahn


    I would love to see an essay on this:
    "Masters' poems have a prose quality. Explain."

    There's not much explaining to do there, is there?

    All the prompts are pretty absurd, but that one (and "Many of the images in 'Preludes' are ugly. Does this mean that they are unpoetic?" A YES OR NO QUESTION AS A PROMPT?) are real gems!

  3. Abby

    Meghan – All the prompts have suggested answers too.

    The answer to the Masters question is: "Avoids rhyme, and his verse forms are irregular."

    I'll bring the Key today.

Leave a Reply