Sunday, February 08, 2009

D.H. Lawrence on teaching (again)

Last summer I posted the D.H. Lawrence poem Last Lesson Of The Afternoon, which encapsulates rather too well the staleness and the hopelessness that often overwhelm the teacher.

To counter-balance that gloomy view and affirm that I do, after all, rather like teaching (although I try not to do very much of it any more, since I usually find it to be both spiritually and financially unrewarding in China), I thought I should offer this other poem of his on teaching. I had meant to do so some months ago, but it somehow slipped my mind.

The Best Of School

The blinds are down because of the sun,
And the boys and the room in a colourless gloom
Of underwater float: bright ripples run
Across the walls as the blinds are blown
To let the sunlight in; and I,
As I sit on the beach of the class alone,
Watch the boys in their summer blouses
As they write, their round heads busily bowed:
and one after another rouses
And lifts his face and looks at me,
And my eyes meet his very quietly,
Then he turns again to his work with glee.

With glee he turns, with a little glad
Ecstasy of work he turns from me,
An ecstasy surely sweet to be had.

And very sweet, while the sunlight waves
In the fresh of the morning, it is to be
A teacher of one of these young boys: my slaves
Only as swallows are slaves to the eaves
They build upon, as mice are slaves
To the man who threshes and mows the sheaves.

Oh sweet it is
To feel the lads' looks light on me,
Then back in a swift, bright flutter to work,
As birds who are stealing turn and flee,

Touch after touch I feel on me,
As their eyes glance at me for the grain
Of rigour they taste delightedly.

And all the class,
As tendrils reached out yearningly
Slowly rotate till they touch the tree
That they cleave unto, that they leap along
Up to their lives - so they to me.

So do they cleave and cling to me,
So I lead them up, so do they twine
Me up, caress and clothe with free
Fine foliage of lives this life of mine;
The lowest stem of this life of mine,
The old hard stem of my life
That bears aloft towards rarer skies
My top of life, that buds on high
Amid the high winds' enterprise;

They do clothe my ungrowing life
With a rich, a thrilled young clasp of life;
A clutch of attachments, like parenthood,
Mounts up to my heart, and I find it good.

And I lift my head upon the troubled tangled world,
and though the pain
Of living my life were doubled, I still have this to comfort and sustain,
I have such swarming sense of lives at the base of me,
such sense of lives
Clustering upon me, reaching up, as each after the other strives
To follow my life aloft to the fine wild air of life and the storm of thought.

And though I scarcely see the boys, or know
that they are there, distraught
As I am with living my life in earnestness, still progressively and alone;
Though they cling, forgotten the most part, not companions,
scarcely known
To me - yet still because of the sense of closeness clinging densely to me,
And slowly fingering up my stem and following all tinily
The way that I have gone and now am leading, they are dear to me.

They keep me assured, and when my soul feels lonely,
All mistrustful of thrusting its shoots where only
I alone am living, then it keeps
Me comforted to feel the warmth that creeps
Up dimly from their striving; it heartens my strife:
And when my heart is chill with loneliness,
Then comforts it the creeping tenderness
Of all the strays of life that climb my life.

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

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